Crown casino case shows federal Icac model 'inadequate', former judge says

Christopher Knaus
Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The integrity watchdog overseeing the home affairs department is “inadequate” to deal with the allegations against Crown casino, a former senior judge has said, calling into question the government’s model for a federal anti-corruption body.

The federal government is under pressure to strengthen its proposal after a Greens bill to establish a body with much greater powers passed the Senate on Monday.

The government’s anti-corruption watchdog would consist of two arms: one overseeing the public sector and another covering law enforcement.

Related: Senate passes Greens bill to create federal Icac

The law enforcement arm would have largely the same powers and jurisdiction as the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which investigates corruption in the Australian federal police and the home affairs department, among other agencies.

The Coalition’s proposal would expand its remit to cover the tax office, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and the corporate and banking regulators.

But Stephen Charles, a former Victorian court of appeal judge, has said the powers and jurisdiction of Aclei are insufficient to properly investigate corruption.

He said it did not have the power to investigate ministers, former ministers, staffers, government contractors or the judiciary. Its lack of resources forced it to rely on the federal police for assistance, he said, creating a potential conflict of interest.

“There are a multitude of ways in which Aclei is insufficient to fully investigate alleged corruption,” Charles said. Charles is a member of the Australia Institute’s national integrity committee, which has laid out a blueprint for a strong, well-resourced federal integrity body.

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His comments coincide with an address to the national press club by shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, who is expected to attack the Coalition’s lack of progress on its integrity commission and reaffirm Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s commitment to establishing such a body.

Dreyfus said the Coalition was yet to produce even an exposure draft for its integrity commission, more than eight months after it was announced.

“Indeed, legislation to establish such a body is not even on the government’s published legislative plan for the rest of this year,” Dreyfus will say, according to a draft of his speech. “And this is despite the fact at the time of the December press conference, the government claimed to have been working on legislation since January 2018.”

On Wednesday the Australia Institute released a report which found Aclei lacked the “jurisdiction, power or resources to fully investigate alleged corruption”.

The report said it lacked the full investigative powers of a royal commission, had a limited definition of corrupt conduct, could not refer cases directly to prosecutors, and could not make findings of corrupt conduct.

Aclei has the power to hold public inquiries but has not done so once, the report found.

Earlier this year, the government referred allegations involving Crown to Aclei for investigation.

The Nine newspapers alleged Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering, failed to conduct due diligence on links between junket operators and organised crime, and allowed Chinese high rollers to avoid proper vetting by exploiting weaknesses in Australia’s visa system. Crown has strongly denied those allegations, labelling the stories “deceitful”.

Related: Pressure for integrity commission builds as poll reveals loss of trust in politics

Charles told Guardian Australia the referral of the Crown matter showed the weakness of the current anti-corruption regime.

“It demonstrates that there is currently no other body to which Crown can be referred to, and Aclei is quite inadequate for handling it,” he said.

“A national integrity commission is needed to fully and properly address Crown allegations.”

The Greens’ bill was supported in the Senate by Labor, Centre Alliance and Jacqui Lambie. But the government can use its majority in the lower house to prevent a vote taking place there.