Australia’s new national anti-corruption body a testament to Griffith research and perseverance

Professor AJ Brown with Federal Attorney-General the Honourable Mark Dreyfus KC and Transparency International Australia CEO Clancy Moore on the day of the introduction to parliament of the NACC Bill, September 2022

More than 30 years of research and advocacy by Griffith University policy and governance experts has helped deliver ground-breaking national anti-corruption reform for Australia.

Passed by the Commonwealth Parliament on the last day of November 2022, legislation creating the National Anti-Corruption Commission has been hailed by experts and civil society groups, and supported by all sides of politics.

Professor A J Brown.

Professor A J Brown, program leader for integrity, leadership and public trust inGriffith’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy, said the final outcome was directly and indirectly influenced by the University’s research, as well as its partnership with the global coalition against corruption, Transparency International.

“In 2017, our latest Australian Research Council Linkage Project, Strengthening Australia’s National Integrity System directly informed the report of the Senate Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission, and more recently, the final design of Australia’s new anti-corruption body meets most of the key principles in our 2020 Blueprint for Reform,” Professor Brown said.

“This includes a wide and flexible definition of corruption, strong new investigative powers and crucially, legislated corruption prevention functions.”

The Griffith team’s research was also directly taken up in design of the cross-bench National Integrity Commission Bills, introduced by Independent MP Cathy McGowan AO, her successor Dr Helen Haines, and the Australian Greens, which paved the way for the new Albanese Government proposals.

Director of the Griffith Criminology Institute,Professor Janet Ransley, led a component of the research focusing on the importance of strong new corruption prevention efforts, driven by risk assessment, system hardening and opportunity reduction, not just deterrence.

But Griffith’s involvement goes back much further to1991 when Griffith’s Foundation Dean of Law, Professor Charles Sampford was immediately involved in the Queensland Reform Process.

This work helped him appreciate the Queensland reforms as a very significant improvement on the then prevalent ‘Hong Kong model’ of anti-corruption law and a single, strong anti-corruption agency.

He was the first to recognize and describe this new model in which a range of laws, ethical standards, economic incentives and institutions were combined to raise standards of behaviour and combat corruption (as well as mutually checking each other if one institution abused its power and/or failed to fulfil its role). In 1991, he called this model an ‘ethics regime’.

After seeking Sampford’s advice in 1994, the UK ‘Nolan’ Committee on Standards in Public Life adopted the concept of an ‘ethics regime’ and Lord Nolan praised it to the OECD who renamed it an ‘ethics infrastructure’ in 1997.

When Jeremy Pope, the founding CEO of Transparency International (TI) visited Queensland in 1995, he saw the same thing but called it an ‘integrity system’ — the name which has largely stuck with variations (including Premier Anna Bligh’s ‘integrity and accountability system’ and AG Mark Dreyfus’ ‘integrity framework’).

Sampford and Pope worked together thereafter theorizing, mapping and understanding integrity systems in a range of jurisdictions, developing a highly sophisticated tool for this purpose (the National Integrity System Assessment or ‘NISA”).

Professor Charles Sampford, Director of Griffith's Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law
Professor Charles Sampford.

A broad-based national anti-corruption body being the first recommendation of Australia’s (and the world’s) first National Integrity System Assessment, led by Professor Charles Sampfordin 2005, with then Senior Research Fellow A J Brown as its lead author of its final report.

Research on corruption and integrity systems was an important part of the work of the three centres Sampford established and led the National Institute for Law, Ethics and Public Affairs which ran from 1991-98; the ARC Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance (the only Australian centre in law or governance to receive centre funding from the Australian Research Council 1999-2015); and the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, (a Griffith strategic research centre established in 2004 on the initiative with the UN University).

This has frequently included applying integrity systems methodologies to a wide range of sub-national, industry, national, regional and global challenges — from proposals for global financial and global carbon integrity systems to those for industry groups such as the ‘Blue Economy’.

In June 2008, Sampford’s work on corruption and integrity systems was recognised by the ARC who invited the 20 researchers they thought had most clearly ‘made a difference’ to the Graeme Clarke Outcomes Forum held at Parliament House Canberra. Charles was one of only four researchers invited from the humanities and social sciences.

Fiona McLeod AO KC and Prof Charles Sampford (Directors of the Accountability Round Table) the Hon Helen Haines MP, Prof AJ Brown Director TI (international) and the CEO of TI Australia Clancy Moore
Fiona McLeod AO KC and Prof Charles Sampford (Directors of the Accountability Round Table), the Hon Helen Haines MP, Prof AJ Brown, Director TI (international) and Clancy Moore, CEO of TI Australia.

Since then, Griffith’s research on corruption, integrity systems and public interest whistleblowing has seen partnerships not only with Transparency International — on whose global board Professor Brown now serves — but bodies including the US Council on Foreign Relations, Open Society Institute, World Bank, United Nations Development Program, and most of Australia’s key state and federal Ombudsmen, anti-corruption agencies, corporate regulators and business and professional bodies.

Professor Sampford also serves on the board of Australia’s Accountability Round Table, which this year presented a Commonwealth Parliamentary Integrity Award to Dr Helen Haines MP, following in the footsteps of McGowan.

Last year, he was lead author of ART’s reform program ‘Integrity, Now!’ of a drafting committee that included Barry Jones and John Hewson.

This has provided the basis for ART submissions to five parliamentary committees considering integrity reforms from parliamentary standards, the NACC, electoral reform and decisions to go to war

Professors Brown and Sampford were also invited experts in the Attorney-General’s final consultations on design of the National Anti-Corruption Commission bill.

“There are still lessons for Australia to learn, to protect and sustain its anti-corruption bodies against the huge political challenges that go with their role,” Professor Brown said.

“However it’s gratifying to know that an engaged, evidence-based approach to policy and legislative development, undertaken in partnership with civil society, government policymakers, political actors and professional bodies can yield such practical results for Australia and lessons which will echo worldwide.”

Professor Sampford also supervised Professor Ransley and Professor Brown in their PhDs.