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31 retired judges plead for federal integrity commission

Seven of Queensland’s most respected retired judges – including recently retired Queensland Chief Justice Catherine Holmes AC – have issued a pre-election plea for the “urgently needed” establishment of a strong federal anti-corruption commission.

The Queensland contingent of former judges have joined 24 other eminent ex-jurists to pen an open letter to all political leaders contesting Saturday’s federal election calling for the establishment of a national integrity commission.

The letter published today tells Scott Morrision (LNP), Anthony Albansese (ALP), Adam Brandt (Greens), Pauline Hanson (One Nation), Clive Palmer (UAP), and other federal political parties that  “we are retired judges who believe that a national integrity commission is urgently needed”.

Retired Queensland judges to sign the letter, including Ms Holmes, are former Court of Appeal President Margaret McMurdo, Supreme Court Senior Judge Administrator Ann Lyons, Court of Appeal judges Margaret White AO and Geoffrey Davies AO and Supreme Court judges Peter Lyons QC and Alan Wilson QC.

Other signatories to the letter include former High Court of Australia judge Mary Gaudron QC, Federal Court judge Michael Barker, Family Court of Australia Chief Justice Diana Bryant AC and other renowned jurists from New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

In 2018, 34 former judges from across Australia also penned an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for the urgent establishment of a National Integrity Commission. Signatories included Sir Gerard Brennan AC QC, Mary Gaudron QC and Tony Fitzgerald AC QC.

The former judges say in this month’s letter that, despite recent criticisms of anti-corruption commissions, “the widely accepted case for a well-designed national integrity commission remains impregnable”.

“The federal government enters into contracts and makes grants worth hundreds of billions each year. This is public money, held on trust for the nation as a whole, to be spent in the national interest and not for unethical political purposes or illegitimate private gain.

“Where billions are to be spent and significant power is available to dispense it with little oversight, greedy people with convenient consciences and powerful connections will ensure that, with the manipulation of their influence, they will obtain illegal or unethical advantage to the detriment of the interests of the general public.

“And they will do so by means which only a specialist anti-corruption body will have the skill and power to detect.

“A political solution via elections, the media, or the parliament, as some suggest, has not produced consequences in real time even where there has been some exposure of wrongdoing.”

The judges said that, without the commission they envision, the rights of Australians to have their taxes employed for the maximum national advantage would not always prevail over the corrupt exercise of power.

“We are retired judges who believe that a national integrity commission is urgently needed to fill the gaps in our integrity system and restore trust in our political processes. Nothing less than halting the serious erosion of our shared democratic principles is at stake,” the letter says.

“Such a body, if properly designed and led, can be entrusted to act fairly and in accordance with natural justice while having the powers necessary if corruption is to be effectively challenged.

“There must be conferred upon that commission a broad jurisdiction and strong investigative powers, including the power to hold public hearings, and respond to bona fide complaints from the public, so that serious or systemic corruption and misconduct can be adequately investigated and exposed.

“We urge you to use your influence in the next Parliament to ensure that a strong, effective and independent National Integrity Commission is established as a matter of urgency.”

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