Bill Shorten has promised a federal corruption commission if Labor wins the next election

Labor leader Bill Shorten Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Labor leader Bill Shorten has promised to create a national commission to investigate corruption in federal government and the public sector.

Speaking at the National Press Club today, Shorten announced the plan for National Integrity Commission (NIC) within the first year of Labor coming to power.

The promise comes amid growing calls for a federal anti-corruption body over the past year, including former NSW Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy, who now leads the global, non-government anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

Shorten said there “has been a loss of faith in the ability of politicians and the public service to properly represent and serve the public interest” in recent years.

“While there is not substantial evidence of widespread corruption at a federal level, that is not a reason to do nothing,” he said.

“It’s clear we need to strengthen and simplify our anti-corruption framework – to weed out serious and systemic corruption, promote integrity, and restore the trust of the Australian people in their representatives and institutions.”

The Labor leader said the NIC would operate as an independent statutory body, with one Commissioner and two Deputy Commissioners on single, fixed, five-year terms.

The Commission would have the powers of a Royal Commission, including for search and surveillance, as well as the power to compel witnesses and subpoena documents and carry out its own investigations. It would be able to investigate Commonwealth parliamentarians and/or their staff, public servants, statutory office holders, the Commonwealth judiciary and even the Governor-General.

Shorten said there would be a presumption that hearings are held in private, and Commission will only be empowered to make findings of fact, with any findings of criminal referred to the AFP or Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.

A Joint Standing Committee of the Parliament would oversee the Commission.

Late last year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull indicated he was prepared to look at a national anti-corruption body, having previously resisted the push from Labor, the Greens and crossbench for one, but added that he did not yet believe it was warranted, saying that be preferred a model similar to Victoria’s IBAC, rather than the ICAC in NSW.