David Solomon, who served as integrity commissioner for five years from 2009, said the new federal government should take note of the Coaldrake review’s recommendations, which he said would make a “huge difference” to openness and accountability of governments.
Writing in the online public policy journal Pearls and Irritations, he singled out the establishment of a national anti-corruption commission and public service reform as two changes that would ensure significant improvements in government integrity.
“Expertise and corporate memory within the public service have withered,” Solomon wrote.
“Worse, under Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, the key function of providing advice to ministers was switched off. Morrison announced a new job-description for the public service, to ‘deliver the government’s agenda. It is ministers who provide policy leadership and directions’.”
Solomon, who also ushered in major reforms to Queensland’s Right to Information laws in the late 2000s, said it would be difficult for the n ew government to avoid “tackling the tortured relationship between ministerial advisers and the public service”.
“Ministers need to ensure their staff don’t exceed their jurisdiction. An enforceable code of conduct covering ministerial staff seems essential,” he wrote.
However, he said a further reform – ensuring advisers be made accountable to parliamentary committees – would have “little or no chance” of being introduced as ministers would see it as a threat to their own independence.
He lauded Professor Peter Coaldrake’s public sector review and its 14 recommendations as a blueprint for reform for other governments, including the federal government, to follow.
He said ti took either a major upheaval in public life, such as the Fitzgerald Commission of Inquiry in Queensland in the 1980s or a new reforming government, for integrity changes to take root.
“For governments, few things are harder than implementing or improving almost any arm of a fully functioning and effective integrity regime.,” he wrote.
“Every such development – including effective freedom of information, an independent auditor-general, Ombudsman, whistleblower protection, an impartial professional and effective public service, an independent anti-corruption commission – appears to government to involve a surrender of part of its power rather than an acknowledgement that it needs to be open and accountable to the people it represents and from whom its power derives.”
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