“Public hearings are essential to detect and prevent corruption. The risk that some important cases of corruption will be dealt with behind closed doors and in secrecy is a blow to transparency.
Section 73 of the bill states that the commission “shall” hold its hearings in private unless the commissioner decides to hold one in public, saying this could be done if the commissioner is satisfied that there is “exceptional circumstances” and that it is in the public interest to do so.
Members of the Center for Public Integrity, another reform advocate, said it raised concerns the NACC would be discouraged from pursuing open justice because the default position was to hold private hearings.
“Public hearings are almost always aligned with the public interest and should be the default,” said the CPI, a nonprofit group created by former judges and lawyers experienced in corruption investigations.
“Exceptional circumstances should rather be required for a private hearing, not a public one.”
The public hearings are a major sticking point for Liberal and National MPs, who have been warning for some time of what they call the possibility of a “media trial”.
Independent MP Zali Steggall dismissed the fears as the Coalition’s ‘shameful attack’ on the proposal, adding there was a greater level of transparency in the NSW state anti-corruption commission because it held more public hearings than its Victorian counterpart.