Fact check: Is Australia in breach of its UN anti-corruption obligations? – Fact Check

The claim

Prominent barrister Geoffrey Watson SC has criticised Australia’s failure to establish a federal anti-corruption watchdog, telling ABC’s RN Breakfast that it puts us “out of step with our international obligations”.

Mr Watson, the former counsel assisting the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, said: “Australia is a signatory to a United Nations declaration against corruption … We’re a signatory to a convention. By failing to put in place an appropriately funded, appropriately skilled agency, we’re in breach of that agreement as we speak.”

He repeated the claim later that day in a speech to the Accountability and the Law Conference, arguing that the agreement “obliges Australia to create and maintain an independent anti-corruption agency” and that we “remain in breach of that obligation”.

So are we in breach of our international obligations by not having a federal anti-corruption body?

RMIT ABC Fact Check takes a look.

The verdict

Mr Watson’s claim that Australia is in breach of its treaty obligations is debatable.

Yes, Australia is bound by the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which includes a requirement to “ensure the existence of a body or bodies or persons” with the power to combat corruption “through law enforcement”.

But the convention allows nations to use whatever system best suits their particular circumstances, and their approaches can be wide and varied.

In Australia’s case, our “multi-agency” integrity system relies on a variety of state and Commonwealth bodies to investigate corruption in the public sector.

Included among these agencies is the national watchdog for investigating Commonwealth public sector corruption — the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

Experts and advocates are divided on whether this system is sufficient for Australia to comply with its treaty obligations, the result of their different interpretations of the convention’s requirements.

Some argue that we will not be meeting our…

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