Dozens of retired judges have called for an “urgently needed” federal ICAC. 

Thirty-one retired judges have issued a late, pre-election plea for the establishment of a strong anti-corruption commission. 

In a letter sent to Scott Morrison, Anthony Albanese and the leaders of the Greens, One Nation and the United Australia Party this week, the eminent jurists warned that such a body is critical in reversing the “serious erosion of our shared democratic principles”.

They say the case for an effective national integrity commission “remains impregnable”.

“Without the commission we envisage, the right of Australians to have their taxes employed for the maximum national advantage will not always prevail over the corrupt exercise of power,” their letter reads.

“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 was signed by legal figures including former high court judge Mary Gaudron, former Queensland supreme court chief justice Catherine Holmes, former family court chief justice Diana Bryant, former Queensland court of appeal president Margaret McMurdo and former federal court judge Michael Barker.

The Coalition has put forth a model for a federal ICAC, but failed to bring it to parliament (breaking a 2019 election promise) that would not allow public hearings or public referrals.

The retired judges say any meaningful anti-corruption body would need both of these features. 

The Prime Minister says his government’s model is “not a court” and has frequently accused the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) a “kangaroo court” because it holds public hearings. 

This criticism ignores the NSW ICAC’s tendency to conduct private examinations and investigations prior to deciding whether to make inquiries public.

“This is the thing about the ICAC criticisms – none of which, in my view, are valid – they all misunderstand that the job of these agencies is to bring questionable dealings out into the sunlight,” former federal court judge and Western Australian supreme court judge Michael Barker told reporters this week. 

“There’s absolutely no doubt that the old expression ‘the sunlight is the best disinfectant’ is absolutely correct.”

Mr Barker described the LNP’s model as “pathetic”.

“It’s the sort of body that carries the name but is entirely the opposite from what the public wants,” he said. 

“It’s designed to frustrate the operation of an effective anti-corruption commission at every step.”

Labor says it would establish a federal ICAC by the end of the year if it wins the upcoming election, and appears to have embraced the need for public hearings, retrospective investigations, the ability to take public tip-offs and to investigate a broader range of conduct.