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Overseeing the Overseers

Overseeing the Overseers

Project Description

In recent decades there has been growing concern about integrity in Australian public life,leading to the creation of anticorruption agencies (ACAs) by federal and state parliaments. Conceptually, determining what counts as ‘corruption’ is far from straightforward. Indeed, it has been remarked that, like beauty, corruption often lies in the eyes of the beholder (Holmes 2015). Questions about how to regulate, monitor and sanction corrupt behaviour also elicit debates among citizens about their understanding of ‘democracy’ and, consequently, what should be the role of parliaments, courts, the citizenry and independent agencies in the processes of democratic accountability (Thompson 2018). Due to these and other issues, policymaking in the integrity domain has been characterised by heated debates, and despite the variety of designs in place across the country, there does not seem to be a clear example of an Australian ACA that is working in a way that is broadly acceptable to all of its stakeholders.

Against this backdrop, this research project seeks to examine, in the Australian context, one of the basic relationships of an integrity system, namely, oversight of the anticorruption agencies, and what role the Parliament should properly play. In short, it will seek to examine the question “who oversees the overseer?”

The research will focus on focus on three questions in particular:

  1. Literature: How have the challenges of ACA parliamentary oversight been considered in the scholarly and policy literature on Australia’s integrity system?
  2. Legislation: For each jurisdiction, what was the parliament’s intention and expectation about the oversight of its ACA at the time of its establishment?
  3. Practice: Are these legislative intentions and expectations being met in practice? If not, what oversight role should Parliament play and what obstacles seem to stand in the way of effective ACA oversight?

To investigate these questions, the research team will examine: the academic and policy literature on ACAs in Australia and comparatively; legislation and Hansard records on integrity bills in order to discern legislative intent; and parliamentary committee reports, media commentary, and academic/policy analyses to provide insights about the performance of, and weaknesses in, ACA oversight mechanisms.

Project Team

A/Prof Zim Nwokora (lead)

A/Prof Amy Nethery

Project Funding

This project is funded by the Legislative Leadership and Governance Group.


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