Anti-Corruption 2024

Last Updated December 07, 2023


Law and Practice


Clayton Utz is a leading independent full-service Australian law firm. Its commercial litigation team has 150 litigators operating across Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Darwin. The firm’s anti-bribery and corruption and investigations specialists advise multinational and Australian companies on corporate fraud, bribery, corruption, facilitation payments, public and private corruption, antitrust, money laundering, and privileges and immunities. The team is experienced in assessing risk and exposure under domestic and international anti-corruption laws. It assists clients with investigations and remediation, and advises on managing various collateral issues, including whistle-blower provisions, media management, defamation and reputational issues, ASX disclosure rules, directors’ reputations and the risk of shareholder litigation. The team’s experience includes advising on Australian Federal Police investigations into alleged bribery of foreign officials; being retained in relation to US investigations into alleged breaches of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act within Australia, by subsidiaries; and acting for a British multinational whose employees allegedly conspired to defraud tax authorities.

Australia ratified the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (the “OECD Convention”) in 1999. Australia is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) of 2003. As a state party to both treaties, Australia is required to criminalise bribery of domestic and foreign public officials in the course of international business.

Australia gives effect to its treaty obligations primarily through the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (Criminal Code). This is the federal legislation prohibiting the bribery of Commonwealth domestic and foreign public officials. Other relevant Commonwealth legislation includes the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Corporations Act) and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth) (POCA).

All of Australia’s six states and two territories have also legislated against public sector and private sector bribery, typically in the relevant state or territory’s crimes legislation. While the laws differ between each state and territory, they generally make it an offence to corruptly give or offer an inducement or reward to an agent for doing or not doing something regarding the affairs of the agent’s principal. It is also an offence to aid, abet, counsel, procure, solicit or incite the commission of these offences. 

In addition, bribery and misconduct in public office remain criminal offences under the common law of some states and territories, rather than being criminalised by statute (as occurs in the other states and territories). The bribery offence at common law is constituted by the offering or receiving of an undue reward to or by any person in public office in order to influence that person’s behaviour in that office. 

Unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, Australian government agencies have only published limited guidance on the interpretation and enforcement of the various anti-bribery and corruption laws.

The Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) has developed an online learning module on foreign bribery, which provides guidance on Australia’s anti-bribery policy, relevant laws, and their application. It has also published a Foreign Bribery Information and Awareness Pack, which provides key information on the foreign bribery offence.

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (“Austrade”) has published material online to provide general guidance to businesses operating overseas, including practical guidance on implementing an anti-bribery and corruption compliance programme, and proportionate anti-bribery procedures. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has also published guidelines on understanding and dealing with the bribery of Australian and foreign public officials.

The Bribery Prevention Network is a recently established public-private partnership offering a free online resource portal designed to support Australian businesses in preventing, detecting and addressing bribery and corruption risks both locally and overseas.

The Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth (the “Prosecution Policy”) provides guidance as to how prosecution decisions are to be made by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) in relation to Commonwealth offences, including bribery offences. 

As discussed later in this chapter, on 22 June 2023, the Federal Government introduced the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Combatting Foreign Bribery) Bill 2023 (Cth) (the “Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill”) to parliament. In July 2023, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee recommended (by majority) that the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill be passed, but the Federal Opposition has proposed amendments to it that would see the inclusion of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) scheme. The Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill follows two previous versions of the legislation which lapsed in parliament without passage in 2019 and 2022 respectively.

Prior to this, there were several noteworthy amendments to Australia’s anti-bribery and corruption laws in 2015 and 2016. In particular:

  • in November 2015, Schedule 2 of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Act 2015 (Cth) amended the offence of bribery of a foreign public official in the Criminal Code to clarify that it is not necessary to prove:
    1. an intention to bribe a particular foreign public official; or
    2. that any business or business advantage was actually obtained or retained as a result of the bribery; and
  • in February 2016, two important new offences were introduced into the Criminal Code in relation to false dealings with accounting documents. It is expected that these offences, which are often easier to prove than traditional bribery and corruption offences, will be increasingly relied upon by prosecutors to ensure that companies engaging in bribery and corrupt practices are prosecuted.

Significant reforms to Australia’s whistle-blower protection laws came into force in July 2019 pursuant to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Act 2019 (Cth): see 6.4 Protection Afforded to Whistle-Blowers.

Serious corruption is now also specifically targeted under Australia’s new thematic sanctions framework. In December 2021, amendments to the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 (Cth) allowed the Commonwealth government to impose economic, financial and trade restrictions on individuals who have engaged in situations of grave international concern, including those responsible for, or complicit in, serious corruption.

Domestic Bribery

Section 141.1(1) of the Criminal Code provides that it is an offence for a person to: dishonestly provide, offer or cause to be provided or offered a benefit to another person with the intention of influencing a Commonwealth public official in the exercise of their duties.

“Benefit” is broadly defined to include any advantage, and is not limited to money or property, and “Commonwealth public official” includes all employees of the Commonwealth and any Commonwealth authority. 

A similar but lesser offence applies to corrupting benefits given to a Commonwealth public official under Section 142.1(1) of the Criminal Code.

Corresponding offences apply to the receipt by Commonwealth public officials of bribes or corrupting benefits: Sections 141.1(3) and 142.1(3). 

It is also an offence under Section 135.4(7) of the Criminal Code to conspire with another person with the intention of dishonestly influencing a Commonwealth public official in the exercise of their duties as a Commonwealth public official. 

Furthermore, various state and territory provisions prohibit bribery of state and territory public officials, which provisions are often the same as those prohibiting private sector bribery. 

Foreign Bribery

The foreign bribery offence is contained in Section 70.2(1) of the Criminal Code. That section provides that it is an offence to: provide, offer or cause to be provided or offered to another person a benefit which is not legitimately due to the other person with the intention of influencing a foreign public official in the exercise of their duties in order to obtain or retain business or a business advantage. 

The offence captures bribes made to foreign public officials either directly or indirectly via an agent, relative or business partner. The key mental element is that the defendant must have intended to influence the foreign public official.

“Foreign public official” is broadly defined and includes, but is not limited to, an employee, contractor or official of a foreign government department or agency, a foreign government-controlled company or public international organisation. “Benefit” is also broadly defined to include any advantage.

Private Sector Bribery

Commercial, or private sector, bribery is criminalised by state and territory legislation, rather than by the Commonwealth. Generally speaking, those laws prohibit the corrupt giving or offering of inducements or secret commissions to, or the receipt by, employees or agents of private or public companies and individuals. Conduct is considered “corrupt” only if it is engaged in with the intention of influencing the recipient to show favour, and the fact that the commission is secret raises the presumption that it was given corruptly. 

An example of the state and territory provisions are those contained in the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (NSW Crimes Act). Among other things:

  • Section 249B(1) prohibits an agent from corruptly receiving or soliciting (or corruptly agreeing to receive or solicit) any benefit from another person:
    1. as an inducement, a reward, or on account of doing or not doing something, or showing or not showing favour to any person in relation to the affairs or business of the agent’s principal; or
    2. if it would tend to influence the agent to show or not show favour to any person in relation to the affairs or business of the agent’s principal. 
  • Corresponding offences of giving or offering such benefits to an agent are imposed by Section 249B(2). 
  • Section 249D prohibits a person from corruptly giving (or receiving) a secret benefit to (or from) another person for providing advice to a third party, with the intention of influencing the third party to either:
    1. enter into a contract with the person giving the benefit; or 
    2. appoint the person giving the benefit to any office.

The definition of “agent” is wide and includes employees, while “benefit” includes money and any contingent benefit.

Failure to Prevent Bribery

Failure to prevent bribery is not currently an offence in Australia. However, the creation of such an offence is currently proposed in the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill, which is modelled on Section 7 of the UK Bribery Act 2010. The proposed offence stipulates that a body corporate would be liable where an associate commits foreign bribery for the profit or gain of the body corporate. The offence would not apply if the body corporate had in place adequate procedures designed to prevent the commission of the foreign bribery offence by its associates. 

It is expected that this proposed new offence would assist in facilitating responsibility for offending conduct being attributed to a company based in Australia, in circumstances where a subsidiary company commits foreign bribery (whether within or outside of Australia), provided it does so for the profit or gain of the parent company. 

Gifts and Hospitality

Australian legislation does not expressly articulate the circumstances under which providing gifts and hospitality may amount to bribery. As the law currently stands, the giving of such benefits will only be unlawful if done with the intention of improperly influencing a public official.

In Australia, there is close scrutiny of the provision of gifts, entertainment and hospitality involving the public sector. As such, Australian public officials are usually subject to guidelines on the receipt of gifts and hospitality. In particular, each Commonwealth, state and territory government has its own public service with its own code of conduct. These codes of conduct are often supplemented by agency-specific codes of conduct, which regulate the conduct of Australian civil servants or officials working for them.

While it will depend on the applicable guidelines, generally speaking, gifts of more than token value should be avoided.

There are no specific offences in Australia directed at influence peddling. However, given that the substantive bribery offences are broad in scope, depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular case, the exchange of influence in respect of decision-making for an undue advantage may constitute an offence. 

The false accounting offences mentioned in 1.4 Recent Key Amendments to National Legislation are found in Part 10.9 of the Criminal Code. The provisions criminalise intentional or reckless concealment of bribery by dealing with accounting documents.

Section 286 of the Corporations Act also puts an obligation on companies to keep written financial records for seven years that correctly record and explain its transactions and financial position and performance. Failure to keep such financial records is a strict liability offence. In addition, it is an offence under Section 1307 for an employee or former employee of a company to falsify any books relating to the affairs of the company.

The Crimes Acts of various states and territories also have similar false accounting offences, such as Section 83(1)(a) of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) which makes it an offence to dishonestly falsify a document made for an accounting purpose.

Domestic public officials also commit an offence by engaging in corrupt practices. For example, as referred to in 2.1 Bribery, Section 141.1(3) of the Criminal Code provides that it is an offence for a Commonwealth public official to: dishonestly ask, receive, obtain, or agree to receive or obtain a benefit for themselves or another person with the intention that the exercise of their official duties will be influenced, or of inducing, fostering or sustaining such a belief. 

A similar but lesser offence applies if a Commonwealth public official receives a corrupting benefit (Section 142.1(3)).

A Commonwealth public official will also commit an offence against Section 142.2 of the Criminal Code for the abuse of public office. This provision will be breached if the official exercises influence, engages in conduct, or uses information obtained in their capacity as an official, with the intention of dishonestly obtaining a benefit for themselves or another person, or causing detriment to another person. 

The states and territories also legislate against public officers seeking or accepting bribes or other benefits to which they are not entitled.

New South Wales is the only Australian jurisdiction that retains a specific offence of embezzlement (Part 4, Division 6, NSW Crimes Act). This offence criminalises conduct in which an employee intentionally misappropriates property entrusted to them by their employer. In other Australian jurisdictions, embezzlement conduct is dealt with under provisions relating to fraud, theft or other property offences.

There are no specific provisions concerning the commission of an offence through an intermediary. However, the offences under the Criminal Code are structured broadly so as to capture such offences. See 3.3 Corporate Liability.

At general law, a prosecution for a criminal offence can be commenced at any time, unless a statute provides otherwise. However, criminal proceedings may be stayed to prevent injustice to the defendant caused by unreasonable delay.

There is no statute of limitations for prosecutions of the above-mentioned Commonwealth offences. That is because under the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) (Crimes Act), there is no limitations period for the prosecution of offences by individuals against a law of the Commonwealth where the maximum penalty exceeds six months’ imprisonment, or for the prosecution of offences by companies where the maximum penalty exceeds AUD46,950.

The Criminal Code offences referred to in 2.1 Bribery, 2.3 Financial Record-Keeping and 2.4 Public Officials have broad extraterritorial reach.

In relation to the foreign bribery offence, either some part of the conduct constituting the alleged offence must have occurred in Australia or, if the conduct occurred wholly outside Australia, the person must be an Australian citizen or resident, or a body corporate incorporated in Australia.

In relation to the offence of bribing a Commonwealth public official, it does not matter if the conduct constituting the alleged offence, or the result of that conduct, occurred entirely outside Australia.

In relation to the state and territory-based offences, there must be some nexus between the state or territory and the offence. In NSW, that nexus will be held to exist where the offence is committed:

  • wholly or partly in the state; or
  • wholly outside the state, but the offence has an effect in the state.

Liability for a breach of directors’ duties under the Corporations Act will arise if the relevant person is a director or officer of an Australian-incorporated company. If the relevant person is a director or officer of a foreign company, the Corporations Act will only have extraterritorial reach over that individual in limited circumstances, including where the conduct occurred in connection with the foreign company carrying on business in Australia (Section 186).

Under Australian law, a company, as a separate legal entity, can be convicted of bribery offences. Companies and individuals can also be held liable for the same offence.

The Criminal Code has specific provisions which address corporate criminal responsibility. Under these provisions, for a company to be criminally responsible for an offence, the physical and mental (or “fault”) elements must be attributed to the company as follows: 

  • the physical element is attributed if that element was committed by an employee, agent or officer of the company acting within the actual or apparent scope of that person’s employment or within their actual or apparent authority; and
  • the key fault element (intention) is attributed if the company expressly, tacitly or impliedly authorised or permitted the commission of the offence. The means by which that may be established include proving that a “high managerial” agent intentionally engaged in the relevant conduct or proving that a corporate culture existed that directed, encouraged, tolerated, or led to non-compliance with the relevant provision.

In other Australian jurisdictions, generally speaking, a corporation may be found guilty of a criminal offence either on the grounds of vicarious liability or on the basis that the person who committed the acts and had the requisite mental state was the directing mind and will of the company.

In the M&A context, a successor entity will not be held liable for offences by the target entity that occurred prior to the merger or acquisition. However, if the transaction was effected by a share sale, the target entity will remain liable even after the acquisition.

Two specific defences are available for the offence of foreign bribery under Section 70.2(1) of the Criminal Code. Both are very narrow.

The first defence (Section 70.3) is enlivened where the provision of the benefit is permitted or required by a written law of the place where the conduct occurred.

The second defence (Section 70.4) is in respect of facilitation payments. If the value of the benefit was of a minor nature, and made to expedite or secure the performance of a “routine government action” of a minor nature, and a record of the details of the conduct was created as soon as practicable, a defendant will have a good defence against liability. Routine government action excludes a decision about the awarding of new business, continuing existing business, or the terms of new or existing business. Rather, it is an action commonly performed by the foreign public official, such as granting permits or licences, processing government papers or providing access to utilities.

Australia has been considering removing the facilitation payment defence for some time. However, the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill proposes that the defence be retained. Nonetheless, Australian authorities recommend avoiding such payments, given that they are often difficult to distinguish from bribes.

There are no exceptions to the above-mentioned defences, which are narrowly framed and only apply in specific situations.

The Commonwealth legislation does not provide any de minimis exceptions. However, such exceptions are found in some of the state and territory legislation. For example, Section 249I of the NSW Crimes Act enables the court to exercise its discretion to dismiss a case if the offence is of a trivial or merely technical nature.

No sectors or industries are exempt from the offences referred to in 2.1 Bribery, 2.3 Financial Record-Keeping and 2.4 Public Officials

There is no formal safe harbour or amnesty programme in Australia based on self-reporting or the existence of adequate compliance procedures and remediation efforts. However, see the discussion regarding the CDPP and AFP’s joint guidance on self-reporting in 7.4 Discretion for Mitigation.

The maximum penalties on conviction for foreign or domestic bribery offences are significant:

  • for an individual:
    1. ten years’ imprisonment; or
    2. a fine of AUD3,13 million, or both; or
  • for a company, a fine being the greatest of:
    1. AUD31,3 million;
    2. three times the value of any benefit that can be reasonably attributed to the bribe; or
    3. where the value of the benefit cannot be determined, 10% of the company’s annual turnover for the 12 months up to the end of the month in which the conduct constituting the offence occurred.

For the false accounting provisions, the maximum penalty for intentional conduct is the same as above, while reckless conduct attracts a maximum penalty of half that of those offences.

In addition to criminal penalties, any benefits obtained from foreign bribery may be forfeited to the Australian government under the POCA.

The maximum penalties that may be imposed for private sector bribery vary between the states and territories. By way of example, in NSW, the maximum period of imprisonment for a bribery offence under Section 249B of the NSW Crimes Act is seven years.

Australia has complex legislated sentencing regimes which require each judge, through the exercise of judicial discretion, to impose a sentence of severity appropriate to all the circumstances of the offence. This requires the sentencing court to take into consideration both aggravating and mitigating factors relevant to the specific facts. The same sentencing principles which apply to individuals will apply to a corporation. In particular, general deterrence is an important consideration for the sentencing court. However, Australia does not have the same prescriptive sentencing guidelines that exist in other jurisdictions (eg, the United Kingdom). There are no guidelines specific to bribery and corruption offences.

Australian law does not currently establish any specific duties to prevent corruption. 

However, the way the corporate criminal responsibility provisions are structured encourages companies to have sound compliance programmes. This is because, if an employee, officer or agent engages in the relevant conduct, the company may potentially be held liable if, among other things:

  • it had a corporate culture that directed, encouraged, tolerated or led to non-compliance with the relevant provision; or
  • the employee, officer or agent was a “high managerial agent” and the company failed to exercise due diligence to prevent their conduct.

Corporate Culture

“Corporate culture” is yet to be judicially tested in this context, but is defined to mean “an attitude, policy, rule, course of conduct or practice existing within the body corporate generally or in the part of the body corporate in which the relevant activities take place”. A key aspect of corporate culture is looking beyond what the company says in its policy literature, to what it actually does in terms of its shared norms, values and how it manages risk. The diligent implementation of an appropriate compliance regime is therefore a very important factor to take into account when assessing corporate culture.

In addition, a director’s duty to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence would extend to taking reasonable care to ensure that the company has an appropriate risk management framework in place, including to manage bribery risk.

Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill

The proposed offence of failing to prevent foreign bribery, which incorporates a defence of “adequate procedures”, would further encourage action to prevent corruption. Under the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill, the Minister will be required to publish guidance on the steps companies could take to help prevent their employees, agents and contractors from engaging in foreign bribery.

Adequate procedures guidance

In November 2019, the Australian government developed a principles-based draft guidance on adequate procedures. Public submissions on this draft were received in February 2020. It drew upon existing guidance published by various entities and government bodies, including the Australian Trade Commission, US Department of Justice, and the OECD. The draft guidance clarified that:

  • all companies (regardless of size) require effective and proportionate procedures to prevent bribery, tailored to a corporation’s circumstances; and
  • indicators of an effective compliance programme include a robust culture of integrity, a clear pro-compliance tone from the top, a strong anti-bribery compliance function, effective risk assessment and due diligence procedures, and careful and proper use of contractors and other parties.

The draft guidance, which was broadly consistent with the UK guidance, suggested that companies adopt the following fundamental elements in their programmes:

  • risk assessment;
  • management dedication;
  • due diligence;
  • communication and training;
  • confidential reporting and investigation; and
  • monitoring and review.

Lobbying activities are regulated at the federal and state or territory level by the applicable Lobbying Codes of Conduct (“Code of Conduct”) and Lobbyist Registers (“Register”).

For example, the AGD administers the Commonwealth Code of Conduct, which was recently updated in 2022 and includes requirements to ensure contact between lobbyists and Commonwealth government representatives remain consistent with the public’s expectations in respect of integrity, transparency and honesty.

Under the Commonwealth Code of Conduct, subject to very limited exceptions, anyone who acts on behalf of third-party clients (regardless of sector) for the purpose of lobbying a Commonwealth government representative is considered a lobbyist and is therefore required to register as such. Government representatives are prohibited from engaging with lobbyists that are not registered on the Register. The Commonwealth’s Register is publicly searchable on the AGD’s website.

As a general rule, there is no requirement for individuals and/or companies to disclose violations of Australia’s anti-bribery and corruption laws.

However, there are certain exceptions. For example, in NSW, it is an offence under Section 316 of the NSW Crimes Act for a person, including a company, who knows or believes that another person has committed a serious indictable offence, to fail without reasonable excuse to report that matter to the NSW Police.

Additional requirements also exist with respect to public disclosures of political donations in the Commonwealth, states and territories. Failure to report political donations may evidence corrupt or dishonest intentions for the purposes of domestic bribery offences.

To strengthen the protection afforded to whistle-blowers in Australia, new private sector whistle-blower laws came into effect in July 2019.

Protection Under the Corporations Act

The new regime, contained in Part 9.4AAA of the Corporations Act, has significantly expanded and strengthened private sector whistle-blower protections, increased applicable penalties and introduced a requirement for public companies and large proprietary companies to have a whistle-blower policy which addresses certain matters.

Importantly, protected disclosures are no longer limited to potential contraventions of the corporations legislation, but now extend to disclosures where the whistle-blower has reasonable grounds to suspect that the information concerns misconduct, or an improper state of affairs or circumstances, in relation to the relevant company or a related body corporate. This specifically includes conduct by the entity, or one of its employees or officers, that constitutes an offence against a law of the Commonwealth punishable by imprisonment for a period of 12 months or more, which would include the domestic and foreign bribery offences in the Criminal Code.

Where certain criteria are met, a whistle-blower will receive protections in relation to the confidentiality of their identity and in relation to victimisation. The penalties for breach of these protections have been significantly increased. The maximum civil penalty for companies, for example, is now the greater of AUD15.65 million, three times the benefit derived from the contravention, or 10% of annual turnover (up to a maximum of AUD782.5 million). It is also now easier for victimised whistle-blowers to claim compensation and other remedies.

Whistle-blowers are also protected against certain legal actions related to making a disclosure. This includes criminal prosecution (and the disclosure cannot be used against the whistle-blower in a prosecution, unless that disclosure is false), civil litigation (eg, breach of employment contract) or administrative action (eg, disciplinary action). Immunity is not given for any misconduct that the whistle-blower was involved in that is revealed in the disclosure.

Protection Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act

Public officials are protected under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (Cth) (PID Act). The PID Act seeks to encourage public officials to report suspected wrongdoing in the Australian public sector, while protecting those who make public interest disclosures from any reprisals. There is equivalent legislation covering public servants in each state and territory.

Protection Under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act

There are also specific protections against reprisals for union whistle-blowers. These were introduced by the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2016 (Cth), which contained a range of measures intended to fight union corruption.

There are no financial rewards to incentivise whistle-blowing, as occurs in the USA. A reward system was recommended by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services to motivate whistle-blowers to come forward with high-quality information, however, that recommendation was not ultimately adopted. 

The relevant provisions governing protections afforded to whistle-blowers are located in various pieces of legislation. The most important of these are:

  • Part 9.4AAA of the Corporations Act;
  • Part IVD of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth);
  • Part 2 of the PID Act; and
  • Part 4A of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth).

Despite a slowly growing number of successful prosecutions, Australia is still in the relatively early stages of enforcing anti-bribery laws in relation to foreign public officials. Enforcement of domestic bribery offences is more established and has been steady.

Australia does not have one single bribery and corruption enforcement agency. Instead, the country has adopted a multi-agency approach to combating corruption. At the Commonwealth level, Australia’s main criminal law enforcement agencies in bribery cases are the AFP and the CDPP. State-based investigations are generally conducted by the fraud squad of the particular state police department, with the state directors of public prosecutions conducting prosecutions.

While allegations of corruption will generally be referred to the AFP, other agencies that may become involved in investigation processes include:

  • the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC);
  • the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC);
  • the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission;
  • the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security; and
  • the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. 

The CDPP is largely responsible for prosecuting offenders under the anti-bribery provisions of the Criminal Code.

In 2013, the AFP established the Fraud and Anti-Corruption (FAC) business area, which enhanced the AFP’s response to, among other things, serious and complex fraud against the Commonwealth, corruption involving Australian government employees, and foreign bribery. The FAC business area brought together multiple Commonwealth agencies, including the AFP, ASIC and ATO. In late 2019, the AFP transitioned its foreign bribery investigations out of the FAC centre to a new multi-agency taskforce specifically focused on foreign bribery and related transnational corruption issues.

In recent years, ASIC has taken a far more active interest in potential Corporations Act contraventions by directors and officers involved in foreign bribery investigations.

The ATO, as the Commonwealth’s principal revenue collection agency, also refers information on suspected or actual bribe transactions to the AFP for potential investigation and/or prosecution, and has established guidelines which require tax auditors to report any suspected foreign bribery.

If an investigating body (such as ASIC or the AFP) completes an investigation into a Commonwealth offence and concludes that there may be grounds to charge someone with a crime, it will refer the case to the relevant Director of Public Prosecutions, who will make an independent assessment on whether to prosecute the case.

Independent Commissions

In addition, there are a number of independent commissions at both the federal and state level which investigate possible corruption of public officials (including politicians) and the police.

At a federal level, NACC is invested with jurisdiction to investigate and report on serious or systemic corrupt conduct across the entire Commonwealth public sector.  Its remit includes investigation of third-parties, including businesses, in relation to such conduct. 

Each state also has independent commissions which investigate possible corruption of both public officials and police at a state level (eg, the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales (ICAC)).

While these bodies cannot charge individuals or corporations with offences, they have wide-ranging investigative powers conferred by statute. Reports following an investigation can be given to the police for further investigation, to parliament, or released publicly.

Powers of Regulatory and Law Enforcement Agencies

Regulatory and law enforcement agencies have significant information-gathering powers to assist them with their investigations. ASIC, for example, may issue notices compelling a person to produce documents, provide information and/or attend a compulsory hearing or examination to answer questions.

ASIC and the AFP, and certain other law enforcement agencies (such as NACC and ICAC), also have the power to access premises to conduct searches and seize materials, usually after obtaining a search warrant. For some serious offences, law enforcement bodies will also have access to more intrusive covert powers, including telephone intercepts.

ASIC’s powers may only be used for the performance of its functions or in relation to an alleged or suspected contravention of the law or for the purpose of a formal investigation. Failure to comply with a written notice, or to attend an examination, without reasonable cause, is an offence for which penalties may be imposed. In practice, demands for documents are often broadly defined, and it is common practice for recipients of such notices to engage with ASIC to negotiate the scope of those demands before responding. 

Unlike ASIC, the AFP does not have the power to compel individuals to answer questions under oath.

However, search warrant powers are available to the AFP, ASIC and many other authorities, upon application to a magistrate, provided the relevant authority is able to establish that there are “reasonable grounds for suspecting” that there is, or shortly will be, relevant evidentiary material at the premises.

Collaboration With Overseas Law Enforcement Agencies

Australian enforcement agencies are increasingly collaborating, and conducting parallel investigations, with other overseas law enforcement agencies. If relevant evidence is located in a foreign country, Australian enforcement agencies may, through the Attorney-General, seek the assistance of the relevant overseas enforcement agency to serve various documents, obtain evidence (including the production of documents and taking evidence by video link), and execute search and seizures. Australia’s mutual assistance system is governed by the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987 (Cth) (MA Act).


In addition to the above, if criminal proceedings are instituted, courts still have their ordinary powers to issue subpoenas or summonses at the request of the prosecutor, compelling a person to give evidence prior to or at trial.

Unlike in the UK and the USA, Australian enforcement agencies have fairly limited discretion for mitigation in enforcing their powers. This is largely due to the fact that there is not, as yet, any equivalent deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreement regime in Australia.

Relevant Mitigating Factors

As a general rule, an offender who discloses that they have engaged in criminal conduct will still be prosecuted subject to there being a prima facie case, reasonable prospects of conviction and that it is in the public interest to prosecute. Nonetheless, the accused can expect to receive a significantly moderated sentence because pleading guilty, providing assistance to law enforcement agencies and showing contrition or remorse (including by making reparation for any injury, loss or damage caused by the offender’s conduct) are all mitigating factors which a court must take into account in the sentencing process.

Various legal mechanisms can be found in published prosecution policies (such as the Prosecution Policy), guidelines and conventions, as well as statutes, which can apply to persons who voluntarily disclose their criminal conduct. This includes the granting of immunity from prosecution in extraordinary circumstances, or the investigating authority accepting an induced witness statement which cannot be used against the deponent.

Self-Reporting of Foreign Bribery

While the AFP encourages self-reporting of foreign bribery, there are still limited incentives to do so. In 2017, the CDPP and the AFP jointly developed a Best Practice Guideline on Self-Reporting of Foreign Bribery and Related Offending by Corporations, in an effort to incentivise companies to self-report. This guideline identifies public interest factors the CDPP will take into account when deciding whether or not to prosecute a self-reporting corporation, or how the self-report will be taken into account in any future prosecution. Further supplementary guidance on self-reporting and corporate co-operation was published by the AFP in 2021. However, these policies do not offer much certainty or comfort for those who may be considering self-reporting.

Prosecution Policies and Guidelines

The formal decision as to whether or not relevant charges should be laid, either against individuals or a company, will be made by the CDPP (or its state/territory counterparts, where relevant) in accordance with its Prosecution Policy, often following a referral by an Australian enforcement agency.

Prosecution policies and guidelines provide a foundation for the prosecution and the defendant to negotiate what charges should be proceeded with. However, agreements on sentence are not enforceable or binding upon a sentencing court, which ultimately has the discretion to determine the appropriate sentence. This places a significant constraint on a defendant’s ability to plea bargain. In Barbaro v the Queen (2014) 253 CLR 58, the High Court confirmed that the prosecution is not required, and should not be permitted, to proffer even a sentencing range to a sentencing judge. Charge bargaining, on the other hand, is common.

Pre-trial Diversion Process

There are currently no legal mechanisms for a pre-trial diversion process or a deferred prosecution in Australia.  A DPA scheme has been proposed by the Federal Opposition as an amendment to the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill.  It would make DPAs available for certain serious corporate crimes, including foreign bribery, which would no doubt incentivise more companies to self-report. For further details about these proposed amendments, see 8.2 Likely Changes to the Applicable Legislation of the Enforcement Body.

The AFP’s decision to investigate potential offences under the Criminal Code or ASIC’s decision to investigate potential breaches of directors’ duties under the Corporations Act will be guided by, among other things, whether or not they can establish a sufficient jurisdictional nexus based on the requirements referred to in 3.2 Geographical Reach of Applicable Legislation.

In circumstances where an offence such as foreign bribery typically involves conduct occurring overseas, evidence of which must be properly obtained to support a prosecution, Australian enforcement agencies may seek mutual assistance from overseas authorities under the MA Act, see 7.3 Process of Application for Documentation.

According to the OECD’s 2022 Additional Written Follow-up Report to its Phase 4 report on Australia (see 8.1 Assessment of the Applicable Enforced Legislation), at the reporting time of November 2022, Australia had two foreign bribery matters before the courts, two matters in which briefs of evidence had been referred to the CDPP for evaluation of potential charges, and four matters in which charges were being actively considered. It also reported that the AFP had a total of 21 ongoing foreign bribery investigations (inclusive of matters before the courts), of which nine investigations were new matters opened since December 2021. The majority of the prosecutions commenced in Australia to date under foreign anti-bribery laws have been prosecutions of individuals, rather than companies. It is expected that this trend will continue, but that companies will also continue to be prosecuted in appropriate cases. Frequently, associated false accounting charges have been brought in parallel to the bribery prosecutions, against individuals who sought to disguise or conceal the true nature of the bribes. 

While it is difficult to obtain reliable data on the ongoing bribery and corruption investigations in Australia, the most notable Australian enforcement actions in the anti-bribery and corruption space include the following.

  • In 2011, in what were the first foreign bribery prosecutions in Australia, the AFP charged Securency International Pty Limited (Securency), Note Printing Australia Limited (NPA) and several of the companies’ former senior managers with the offences of bribery of foreign public officials, conspiracy to commit foreign bribery and false accounting offences connected with that conduct. The cases arose from allegations by a company insider that Securency had paid nearly AUD50 million to international sales agents to bribe central banking officials in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam in order to secure banknote supply contracts. A series of hearings was run from 2011 to 2018, following which:
    1. each of the companies pleaded guilty to three charges of conspiracy to commit foreign bribery, were fined AUD480,000 and AUD450,000 respectively, and were separately the subject of pecuniary penalty orders under POCA in the amount of AUD22 million;
    2. convictions were obtained against various former employees of Securency, including the CEO, CFO, a senior business development manager, the Indonesian sales agent and a former banknote specialist; and
    3. charges against four other individuals were permanently stayed on the grounds that their continued prosecution would bring the administration of justice into disrepute, after the investigation into their conduct was tainted by unlawful compulsory examinations, to their prejudice (Strickland v Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (2018) 266 CLR 325).
  • In 2015, the AFP charged two directors of an Australian construction company, Lifese, and a third individual, with conspiracy to bribe a foreign public official in connection with building contracts in Iraq. The three men pleaded guilty, with the directors each ultimately sentenced to just over three years’ imprisonment and fined AUD250,000, with the third man sentenced to four years’ imprisonment (R v Jousif; R v I Elomar; R v M Elomar (2017) 325 FLR 108; and Elomar v R [2018] NSWCCA 224).
  • In a series of cases running between 2012 and 2017, ASIC successfully prosecuted a number of former officers and directors of AWB Ltd, Australia’s largest wheat exporter (at the time), for their involvement in a scheme between 1999 and 2003 by which AWB Ltd rorted the UN’s Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq. Civil penalties and disqualification orders were imposed on, amongst others, the board’s chair and the managing director on the basis that the former had failed to make adequate enquiries into the lawfulness of the scheme, despite the existence of certain red flags, and the latter had failed to inform the board of certain matters, in breach of their duties to the company (ASIC v Flugge & Geary (2016) 342 ALR 1; ASIC v Flugge (No 2) (2017) 342 ALR 478; and ASIC v Lindberg (2012) 91 ACSR 640).
  • In May 2018, engineering consultancy Sinclair Knight Merz, now known as Jacobs Group Australia (“Jacobs”), its former chief executive and other individuals, were charged with conspiring to bribe foreign officials in the Philippines (between 2000 and 2005) and Vietnam (between 2006 and 2012) to secure various infrastructure projects. The charges followed the company’s self-report to the AFP in 2012. The cases concluded with a guilty plea by the company, the acquittal of individuals charged with the Philippines conspiracy, and the discontinuation of proceedings against the second group of individuals in relation to the Vietnam conspiracy shortly thereafter.
  • Jacobs was sentenced in 2021 to pay fines totalling AUD1,471,500, incorporating a 25% discount for the guilty plea and a further 40% discount for its extraordinary co-operation and assistance provided to the authorities. In 2023, the CDPP successfully appealed to the High Court of Australia against the fine imposed. The High Court’s judgment provided important guidance on the proper construction of the expression “value of the benefit… obtained” in the maximum penalty provision in Section 70.2(5)(b) of the Criminal Code, holding that the expression should be construed broadly to mean the value of any advantage obtained. In this particular case, where it was common ground that the benefit obtained from the relevant conduct was securing contracts for the carrying out of three construction projects, and that money had been received by the company for performing those contracts, the Court held that Section 70.2(5)(b) required the value of the benefit obtained to be determined as the sum of the amounts in fact received under the contracts secured by the bribery offence (ie, the revenue received), rather than on a “net benefit” basis which took into account the costs incurred in performing the contracts. This interpretation may result in a substantially higher applicable maximum penalty in other foreign bribery cases. The matter has been remitted for redetermination of the company’s sentence by the relevant count.
  • In March 2019, charges were laid in NSW against the former chief of staff at National Australia Bank (NAB), Ms Rosemary Rogers, for dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception and corruptly receiving a benefit as an agent under private sector anti-bribery laws. The charges related to a scheme by which Ms Rogers approved inflated invoices issued by an events company to the bank, in return for personal travel, cash and other benefits totalling AUD5,4 million. Ms Rogers pleaded guilty and was sentenced in January 2021 to eight years’ imprisonment. The head of the events company, Ms Helen Rosamond, contested the charges but was convicted by a jury in July 2023 and sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 15 years (with a non-parole period of eight years).
  • In July 2021, former NSW Minister for Mineral Resources, Mr Ian Macdonald, Mr Eddie Obeid (another former NSW Minister) and his son, Mr Moses Obeid, were found guilty of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office. The convictions concerned a conspiracy that Mr Macdonald would wilfully misconduct himself as Minister by acting in breach of his ministerial duties of confidentiality and impartiality in connection with the grant of a coal mining exploration licence in the Bylong Valley, where the Obeid family owned a rural property, for the improper purpose of benefitting the Obeids and others associated with them. Mr Macdonald was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, Mr Eddie Obeid to seven years, and Mr Moses Obeid to five years.
  • In 2022, Mr Eddie Obeid, together with two other former NSW Ministers, Mr Joe Tripodi and Mr Tony Kelly, as well as Mr Kelly’s former chief-of-staff, were charged with misconduct in public office, arising from an earlier NSW ICAC inquiry. That inquiry found that Mr Tripodi and Mr Kelly used their ministerial positions to push for infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings to be awarded a lucrative government contract, to the potential financial benefit of the Obeid family.
  • Following a lengthy AFP investigation into the conduct of subsidiaries of Leighton Holdings Ltd (now known as CIMIC) triggered by the company’s self-report in 2011, Mr Russell Waugh, the former Leighton Offshore Pty Ltd managing director, was charged in late 2020 in relation to alleged foreign bribes paid via third-party contractors to secure approvals for two oil pipeline contracts with Iraq Crude Oil Export in 2010 and 2011, and in respect of a separate infrastructure contract in Tanzania. Charges have also been laid against a second former Leighton executive, Mr David Savage, for knowingly providing misleading information.
  • In August 2020, Mr Mozammil Bhojani, the director of Radiance International, pleaded guilty and was convicted for bribing two Nauru government officials in 2015 and 2017 with more than AUD100,000 in kickbacks. The bribes were in exchange for favourable phosphate shipments. Mr Bhojani was sentenced to an intensive correction order for two-and-a-half years of intensive correction in the community and 400 hours of community work.
  • In July 2020, Melbourne man Mr Dennis Teen was charged with bribing Malaysian government officials by paying them AUD4,75 million in relation to the sale of a student accommodation block to a Malaysian government-owned entity in 2013. It is alleged that the bribes were paid to the officials in return for arranging the purchase of the property at an inflated price. The AFP subsequently restrained property worth AUD1,6 million held by the accused, the accused’s wife and their associated companies.
  • In September 2022, two former employees of the SMEC engineering group were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit foreign bribery in relation to projects in Sri Lanka. It was alleged that between 2009 and 2016 the men conspired to arrange the payment of more than AUD304,000 to foreign government officials to win contracts for the supervision of two infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka worth over USD8,8 million. However, the CDPP withdrew the charges in May 2023 whilst the proceedings were still at the early committal stage.
  • In August 2023, an Australian mining company, Oz Minerals Ltd, which had self-reported and been investigated by the AFP in relation to alleged foreign bribery, agreed to (civil) confiscation orders to the value of at least AUD9.3 million. The resolution brought to an end a long-running AFP investigation. The allegations first came to light in 2011, and concerned the actions of employees of a foreign subsidiary that may have bribed foreign officials to obtain mining rights in Cambodia between 2006 and 2009. This is the first resolution of a foreign bribery matter in Australia by way of consent orders under the POCA.

Although there has been a steady increase in the level of enforcement action for bribery and corruption offences in recent years, in particular foreign bribery, there is still some way to go. Bolstering the resources and abilities of the dedicated fraud and anti-corruption teams within the AFP will assist, as will the reforms proposed by the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill, if passed.

As Australia is a party to the OECD Anti-bribery Convention, the adequacy and enforcement of Australia’s anti-bribery legislation is subject to ongoing evaluation.

OECD Working Group

2017 Report

The OECD Working Group on Bribery published its Phase 4 Report for Australia in December 2017. The working group identified several achievements and positive developments, noting that Australia had stepped up its enforcement on foreign bribery since 2012 (when the working group had been critical of Australia’s poor enforcement record). This improvement included reforms passed in 2015 and 2016 (see 1.4 Recent Key Amendments to National Legislation), the establishment of the FAC, the establishment of the Fintel Alliance (a public-private partnership aimed at combating money laundering, terrorist financing and organised crime), and the engagement of AFP liaison officers globally in foreign bribery investigations.

The OECD Working Group also made a number of recommendations. Key recommendations included ensuring that the AFP and CDPP have adequate resources to effectively enforce the foreign bribery offence, proactively pursuing criminal charges against companies for foreign bribery and related offences and encouraging companies to develop and adopt adequate internal controls and compliance programmes.

2019 Report

In the OECD’s two-year follow-up report in December 2019, Australia was commended for its implementation of a number of the Phase 4 Report recommendations, most notably its detection of foreign bribery, aided by its enhanced protections for private sector whistle-blowers. However, there was continued concern about Australia’s low level of foreign bribery enforcement, given the size of Australia’s economy and the high-risk regions and sectors in which Australian companies operate, and doubts about Australia’s ability to impose effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties.

2021 Report

In its 2021 Addendum to the above report, the OECD Working Group recognised Australia’s increased activity in prosecuting and investigating foreign bribery cases, together with budget increases for the CDPP. However, it also noted that the predecessor to the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill had not yet been passed. Australia was invited to provide a further progress report by December 2022, including on the legislative status of the adoption of the bill.

2022 Report

The OECD’s 2022 Additional Written Follow-up Report to its Phase 4 report (published in January 2023) recognised, amongst other things, Australia’s actions to develop procurement rules as they relate to debarment of companies and individuals convicted of criminal offences (such as foreign bribery), engagement with the private sector to develop guidance on compliance measures required to prevent foreign bribery, and continued enforcement activity, including against companies.

Senate Committee Reports

In March 2018, the Senate Economics References Committee released its report regarding the effectiveness of Australia’s legislation governing foreign bribery. The report highlighted that, despite the framework of laws and policies designed to criminalise foreign bribery being in place, Australia’s poor enforcement record suggested that foreign bribery offences were not being adequately enforced. Factors contributing to this lack of enforcement included the complex nature of the cases, lack of sufficient expertise, delays in investigative procedures, lack of co-operation between companies and the authorities, and limited resources. The committee made several recommendations to improve the enforcement record, including increasing one-off funding to agencies for the large and complex investigation of foreign bribery offences and to introduce a “failure to prevent” bribery offence and a DPA regime.

In February 2021, the Australian government published its response to the Committee Report. It accepted many of the Committee’s recommendations and noted that the predecessor to the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill was intended to address many of the issues raised.

The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee reported on the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill in July 2023. Its recommendations included that the Commonwealth government consider clarifying in the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill or its explanatory notes that the fact foreign bribery has occurred does not, in itself, mean that “adequate procedures” were not implemented by the relevant body corporate.

Royal Commission Into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry Report

More broadly, Australia’s enforcement environment went through a period of intensification following the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, the final report of which was delivered on 1 February 2019. Following the commissioner’s critique of ASIC’s failure to take tougher action against companies and individuals, ASIC announced a stronger enforcement approach and established a new “Office of Enforcement” in July 2019 to lead its enforcement function. This led to a significant increase in the number of enforcement actions being brought by ASIC, including a 64% increase in civil penalty proceedings and a 36% increase in criminal proceedings commenced from 2018 to 2020.

As expected, ASIC’s Royal Commission-related enforcement activity subsequently reduced, and in 2022 ASIC announced that it had filed its final civil case following its enforcement investigations arising from the Royal Commission.

More generally, in the 12 months ending in June 2023, ASIC commenced more than 130 investigations, obtained 35 criminal convictions and saw recoveries of over AUD190 million in civil penalties and fines imposed by the courts.  One of ASIC’s enduring priorities is governance and directors’ duties failures. ASIC’s active interest in potential Corporations Act contraventions by directors and officers in the foreign bribery space is expected to continue.

As earlier discussed, the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill was introduced on 22 June 2023, following on from two previous attempts to introduce similar legislation, which lapsed. The Bill is currently before the Senate. The Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill proposes to amend the foreign bribery offence by:

  • extending the definition of foreign public official to include a candidate for office;
  • removing the requirement that the foreign official must be influenced in the exercise of their duties;
  • removing the requirement that a benefit and business advantage must be “not legitimately due” and replacing it with the concept of “improperly influencing” a foreign public official; and
  • extending the offence to cover bribery to obtain a personal advantage.

As outlined in 2.1 Bribery, a new offence was also proposed to be included in Division 70 (to apply prospectively), which targets the failure of a company to prevent foreign bribery by an associate.

Although the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill did not propose to implement a DPA scheme, the Federal Opposition has sought to amend the Bill to introduce such a scheme. The purpose of the proposed DPA scheme is to develop an effective response to corporate crime by encouraging greater self-reporting by companies and to enhance the accountability of Australian business for serious corporate crime. The basis of the scheme is reparation, remediation, financial penalties and implementation of effective compliance programmes, and is modelled on the equivalent scheme in the UK. It remains to be seen whether these amendments will be enacted.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) also recently considered the current corporate criminal responsibility regime in Australia and identified key recommendations to improve the regime in a report published in April 2020. In particular, it recommended standardising attribution of criminal responsibility to corporations and simplifying Part 2.5 of the Criminal Code to make it easier for the prosecution, while still allowing corporations to avoid liability by demonstrating that they took reasonable precautions to prevent misconduct. In relation to foreign bribery liability, the ALRC supported the proposed “failure to prevent” offence, and recommended a debarment regime be introduced, to prevent companies that have been found guilty of foreign bribery from obtaining contracts. The ALRC also recommended that the DPA scheme, proposed under the predecessor version of the Combatting Foreign Bribery Bill, be amended to require approval of DPAs by a current (rather than former) judicial officer.

The government has also announced its intention to increase transparency over company ownership, including to introduce a public registry of corporate beneficial ownership. While the focus is to prevent corporate money laundering and tax evasion, this will also have a positive impact upon combating bribery and corruption. No timeline has yet been established.

Clayton Utz

1 Bligh Street
NSW 2000

+61 2 9353 4000

+61 2 8220 6700
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Trends and Developments


Nyman Gibson Miralis is a market leader in all aspects of general, complex and international criminal law and is widely recognised for its involvement in some of Australia’s most significant cases. The firm’s team in Sydney has expertise in dealing with complex national and international cybercrime investigations and advising individuals and businesses who are the subject of cybercrime investigations. Its expertise includes dealing with law enforcement requests for information from foreign jurisdictions, challenging potential extradition proceedings as well as advising and appearing in cases where assets have been restrained and confiscated worldwide.


The Australian anti-corruption regulatory and enforcement landscape is rapidly changing, as the current Australian government seeks to maintain its stance of developing a strong regulatory framework that targets private and public corruption.

This section analyses the changing Australian regulatory landscape at two levels, legislative and litigatory, as they most clearly showcase the government’s efforts to create a strengthened anti-corruption regulatory framework.

At the legislative level, the Australian government has introduced wholesale changes to its anti-corruption framework. This includes the recent establishment of an anti-corruption commission. The government has also signalled further legislative amendments, including to strengthen its anti-bribery laws and anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) regime.

At a litigatory level, recent judicial decisions demonstrate regulators’ re-energised focus on enforcement and increased penalties for corporate entities.

This section finally discusses Australia’s most recent update to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption’s (UNCAC) review mechanism, which indicated various legislative changes enacted by Australia, intended to align it with international obligations and to globally signal its aim to clamp down on corrupt actors, both private and public.

An Evolving Legislative Framework

Establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission

On 30 November 2022, the Federal Parliament passed the National Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2022 (the “NACC Act”). The Act established the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), an independent agency that detects, investigates and reports on serious or systemic corrupt conduct in the federal public sector. The Commission can also refer matters for criminal prosecution. The National Anti-Corruption Commissioner commenced operating in mid-2023.

The NACC, while focusing on corruption in the public sector, will have an impact on the businesses that work with the government.

Under the NACC Act, the NACC will be able to investigate any person, if they have potentially done something that has or could adversely affect a public official’s honesty or impartiality in the way they carry out their official duties. This broad definition allows NACC to investigate companies, their officers, directors or employees and a “Commonwealth public official”. The latter term is broadly defined to include individuals “engaged in assisting” any federal agency and also a service provider under a Commonwealth contract.

As a result, the NACC may potentially investigate private entities such as companies engaging with Parliamentarians and their staff, federal agencies’ staff, or contract service providers to the Australian government. Further, various indirect corporate entities may also be potentially captured.

Additionally, the NACC’s threshold to investigate private entities and individuals for “serious and systemic” corrupt conduct is unclear as the NACC Act does not define “serious and systemic” corrupt conduct. Instead, the Commissioner of the NACC will decide whether, in their opinion, a matter could involve “serious or systemic” corrupt conduct.

If the NACC investigates a private entity, it will have the power to issue notices to the company, or any of its officers or employees, requiring the production of documents; compel officers or employees to attend a hearing to give evidence; search the company’s premises; and use covert investigative powers, including intercepting telecommunications, using surveillance devices and authorising covert law enforcement operations, subject to satisfying the existing procedures enlivening the use of those powers by law enforcement agencies.

Individuals or corporations may face criminal penalties for failing to attend or obstruct NACC hearings, destroying documents, or producing false or misleading documents or information.

As a result, it is crucial for entities to ensure that their compliance and best practice documents are up to date and to develop policies for responding to a potential NACC inquiry, noting that NACC will be able to investigate both current and past conduct.

Crimes Legislation Amendment (Combatting Foreign Bribery) Bill 2023

The Australian Parliament has introduced the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Combatting Foreign Bribery) Bill 2023 (the “Bill”).

The Bill aims to increase corporate accountability by measures including introducing absolute liability for corporations if an associate of the corporation engages in foreign bribery for the profit or gain of the corporation. The offence can attract penalties of the greater of AUD27.5 million; three times the value of the benefit obtained by the offence; or 10% annual turnover during the 12-month period ending after the month the offence was committed.

The only defence available is if the body corporate had “adequate procedures” designed to prevent bribery of foreign public officials. The test is objective and will ultimately require the court to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether the procedures were adequate. This provision is modelled on the United Kingdom’s Bribery Act 2010.

The Bill requires that the Attorney General publish guidance on steps that a body corporate can take to prevent an associate from bribing foreign public officials. Such guidance may also be modelled on the UK Serious Fraud Office’s 2020 guidance for “adequate procedures”, which accompanies Section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010 that deals with a commercial organisation’s failure to prevent bribery.

This is the third instance of a foreign bribery bill being tabled in Parliament, the previous versions having each lapsed. The first two versions included a Deferred Prosecution Agreement scheme, however, this has now been removed, indicating the current government’s stricter stance towards corporate offending. The Bill is currently before the Senate.

AML/CTF legislation and Tranche 2

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) is leading the “Tranche 2 reforms” of the Australian AML/CTF regime. These reforms are the ongoing focus of several government agencies and departments including the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Taxation Office.

Tranche 1 comprised of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (the “AML/CTF Act”), which was passed in December 2006; while Tranche 2 comprises a set of regulations that will simplify and modernise the Australian AML/CTF system and bring it in line with the Financial Action Task Force’s recommendations and other countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. The regulations include extending the AML/CTF regime to non-financial professions, including real estate and law.

In March 2022, the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee published its report on the adequacy and efficacy of Australia’s existent AML law and regulation. The report recommended the acceleration of the implementation of the Tranche 2 reforms.

Between 20 April 2023 and 16 June 2023, the Attorney-General held a public consultation on the Tranche 2 reforms. A second consultation was expected to commence in September 2023, which would have likely included draft legislation, however, at the time of writing, the second consultation has not taken place.

AUSTRAC has already indicated that feedback from the initial round of reforms will be used to inform subsequent drafting of the reforms over the course of 2023.

Litigatory Landscape

AUSTRAC v Crown Melbourne, AUSTRAC v Crown Perth

In July 2023, the Federal Court of Australia ordered Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth (Crown) to pay a combined AUD450 million penalty for serious breaches of the AML/CTF Act. This is the third-largest fine in Australian corporate history.

The Federal Court approved the settlement between the AUSTRAC and the two subsidiaries of Crown Resorts Limited, Australia’s largest gaming and entertainment group, based on findings that Crown had failed to adequately monitor and report suspicious transactions and had facilitated money transactions involving high-risk customers.

The litigation was the result of AUSTRAC’s industry-wide casino compliance campaign, which launched in 2019. AUSTRAC’S AML/CTF investigations into the casino and gambling industry were expected following its publications in December 2020 setting out its first risk assessment programme. This programme focused on the banking, remittance and gambling services sectors associated with the examination of junket tour operations (JTO) in Australia. It targeted these industries to identify, mitigate and manage risks of exposure to financial crime. AUSTRAC expressed concern over the high ML/TF risks faced by the JTO sector and detected that one of the leading casinos, the Star, maintained ongoing ties with many junkets that are linked to organised criminal groups in Asia. 

AUSTRAC announced proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against the Crown in March 2022. This followed an investigation that found poor governance, poor risk management, and failure to maintain a compliant AML/CTF programme at the Crown. The proceedings were for alleged serious and systemic non-compliance with Australia’s AML/CTF laws.

Additionally, the publications revealed that Australian regulators had identified that casino accounts were being misused to make political donations to expand foreign influence. As a result of these risks and concerns, AUSTRAC launched “Operation Slalom” for enhanced compliance investigations and enforcement actions against casino and gambling industries. 

In November and December 2022, AUSTRAC also commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against Star Entertainment Group entities and SkyCity Adelaide Pty Ltd for similar reasons. 

High Court decision raises maximum penalties for corporations

On 2 August 2023, the High Court handed down its decision in The King v Jacobs Group (Australia Pty Ltd) [2023] HCA 23. The High Court overturned the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal’s decision concerning the maximum penalty that may be imposed under Section 70.2(5)(b) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) for conspiracy to bribe a foreign official.

In 2020, the respondent had pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy as a body corporate to bribe foreign officials under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The appeal to the High Court concerned the approach to calculating the maximum penalty that could be imposed with respect to only one of the counts, as its relevant offending had occurred when the maximum penalty provision was amended.

Section 70.2(5), as amended, prescribes a maximum monetary penalty for the offence of a corporation bribing, or conspiring to bribe, a foreign public official, a fine not more than the greatest of:

  • 100,000 penalty units;
  • three times the value of the benefit (if a court can determine that value); or
  • if the court cannot determine the value, 10% of the corporation’s annual turnover in a 12-month period ending the month in which the offending conduct occurred.

The High Court unanimously held that the “gross benefit” approach was correct. The High Court held that for the purposes of ascertaining the maximum available penalty, the “value of a benefit” obtained by the respondent consisted of the amount received in performing construction contracts procured by the conspiracy, without deducting the costs of performing the contracts.

The High Court found this approach to be consistent with international law, as the provision is part of Australia’s response to complying with its obligations under the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Officials in International Business Transactions.

This decision has potential implications for calculating maximum penalties for other corporate offences. Formulations similar to the “three-pronged” approach to calculating a penalty under Section 70.2(5) of the Criminal Code are also used in a number of other Commonwealth statutes that impose penalties, including the Corporations Act and the Competition and Consumer Act.

This HCA decision may also have consequences for monetary penalties arising from contravention of other criminal and civil penalty provisions of Commonwealth laws where the penalty is assessed by reference to the value of a “benefit” directly or indirectly obtained from the offending conduct. This may be so, both in relation to penalties imposed by the courts and in the negotiation of monetary penalties by regulators or prosecuting authorities.

UNCAC Review

On 10 November 2022, the Australian government provided an update to the UNCAC Implementation Review Mechanism (IRM) about steps that Australia has taken to implement the IRM’s recommendations in its 2020 report of Australia.

The 2020 report concluded IRM’s second cycle review of Australia, while its first cycle review was completed in 2012. The 2020 report evaluates the effectiveness of Australia’s legal and institutional framework in implementing the preventive measures and asset recovery provisions of the UNCAC. It also identifies the successes, good practices, challenges and technical assistance needs of Australia in these areas.

The report made 13 recommendations to strengthen Australia’s implementation of the UNCAC, including in relation to access to beneficial ownership and director identification information, regulation of former public officials working in the private sector and regulation of non-financial businesses and professions under anti-money laundering legislation.

Australia’s 2022 update to the IRM outlined steps taken and proposed to be taken to implement the IRM’s recommendations, including the following.

  • The Australian government has committed to establishing a beneficial ownership register.
  • In 2020, the Australian government passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (Registries Modernisation and Other Measures) Act 2020 (Cth) (the “RMOM Act”), which consolidated 30 existing business registers onto a modernised business registry platform.
  • The RMOM Act also introduced the requirement for directors to obtain a Director ID by November 2021. The requirement for a Director ID was introduced to help address illegal phoenixing and will provide visibility over a director’s relationships across companies and over time.
  • In June 2021, a majority of provisions under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020 (Cth) commenced. The Act included amendments to strengthen protections on correspondent banking by prohibiting correspondent banking relationships with shell banks. The amendments also require banks to conduct due diligence assessments before entering, and during, all correspondent banking relationships.

The Australian government also identified the NACC and, at the time, proposed amendments to the corporate foreign bribery provisions as steps taken to comply with the IRM recommendations and UNCAC.


Australia’s update to the IRM, in 2022, illustrates the Australian government’s energised efforts to develop a comprehensive anti-corruption framework, supported by a federal legislative scheme that implements Australia’s UNCAC and OECD obligations. Further, the discussed judicial decisions and enforcement action have also contributed to the most energetic regulatory and enforcement environment Australia has seen in decades. 

These changes, at the legislative and enforcement level, will have profound implications for the country’s regulatory and corporate landscape, and require corporate entities to review their current operations, frameworks and policies.

Nyman Gibson Miralis

Level 9, 299 Elizabeth Street
New South Wales 2000

+61 2 9264 8884

+61 2 9264 9797
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Law and Practice


Clayton Utz is a leading independent full-service Australian law firm. Its commercial litigation team has 150 litigators operating across Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Darwin. The firm’s anti-bribery and corruption and investigations specialists advise multinational and Australian companies on corporate fraud, bribery, corruption, facilitation payments, public and private corruption, antitrust, money laundering, and privileges and immunities. The team is experienced in assessing risk and exposure under domestic and international anti-corruption laws. It assists clients with investigations and remediation, and advises on managing various collateral issues, including whistle-blower provisions, media management, defamation and reputational issues, ASX disclosure rules, directors’ reputations and the risk of shareholder litigation. The team’s experience includes advising on Australian Federal Police investigations into alleged bribery of foreign officials; being retained in relation to US investigations into alleged breaches of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act within Australia, by subsidiaries; and acting for a British multinational whose employees allegedly conspired to defraud tax authorities.

Trends and Developments


Nyman Gibson Miralis is a market leader in all aspects of general, complex and international criminal law and is widely recognised for its involvement in some of Australia’s most significant cases. The firm’s team in Sydney has expertise in dealing with complex national and international cybercrime investigations and advising individuals and businesses who are the subject of cybercrime investigations. Its expertise includes dealing with law enforcement requests for information from foreign jurisdictions, challenging potential extradition proceedings as well as advising and appearing in cases where assets have been restrained and confiscated worldwide.

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