An eminent judge who ran the probe into alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan has been appointed to head the first federal anti-corruption body.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus confirmed on Wednesday that NSW Court of Appeal Justice Paul Brereton would lead the National Anti-Corruption Commission, an appointment that was revealed earlier this month.
“He has a wealth of experience leading complex and sensitive investigations,” Dreyfus said on Wednesday.
The appointment of Brereton, a former army major general who is a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the military, was confirmed by a parliamentary committee of 12 MPs charged with monitoring the performance of the new watchdog and approving senior appointments.
The committee has spent the past two weeks vetting Brereton and deputy commissioners for the body the government hopes will be up and running in the new financial year. It will fulfil a key Labor pledge from the last election, after the Coalition failed to set up an anti-corruption body despite broad public support.
Dreyfus faced questions about when the body would hold a public hearing into alleged corruption by a politician or public servant. The government was criticised by integrity-focused crossbenchers and the Greens after it passed legislation limiting the NACC to holding public hearings only in “exceptional circumstances”.
Dreyfus, who batted away questions about whether the NACC would unfairly tarnish politicians’ reputations, said he was confident the body’s rules would allow it to work effectively.
“The legislation we passed through the parliament, which was supported across the parliament last year, is the best possible model,” he said.
The NACC’s chief executive will be Philip Reed, who has held the same role at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. ICAC inspector, Gail Furness, will be the NACC’s inspector. Nicole Rose, who currently works at AUSTRAC, and Ben Gauntlett of the Australian Human Rights Commission will be the NACC’s deputy commissioners.
All of these appointments still need to be ticked off by the governor-general, which is a formality.
Brereton helmed the landmark four-year inquiry into alleged war crimes perpetrated by Australian soldiers in the Afghanistan war. In the probe’s final report delivered in 2020, he uncovered credible allegations that special forces soldiers committed 39 murders.
The Morrison government established the $75 million Office of the Special Investigator to investigate if criminal charges should be laid.
Geoffrey Watson, SC, a former counsel assisting the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and a proponent for a national corruption body, said earlier this month the inaugural commissioner would be a consequential figure.
“They will set the culture for the place; whether it is a dynamic force, whether it is efficient, whether it moves swiftly to deliver a report,” Watson said.
“There are still grey areas about the jurisdiction. The original commissioner will be the person who tests that, who may challenge or extend the jurisdiction. I’m hoping it will be an aggressive organisation.”
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