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Key Takeaways

Bribery and corruption means the providing of an advantage or gift to entice another to do or omit to do something that’s dishonest or against the law in Australia. The penalties for bribe and corruption offences in Australia warrant large fines and imprisonment depending on the seriousness of the bribe offence.

What is bribery?

Bribery and corruption involves providing a gift or advantage to induce another to act in a way that is dishonest or would breach a law or certain standard.

The person provided with the gift or advantage is most often a public or corporate official, due to their position of authority.

The Commonwealth and all states and territories in Australia criminalise bribery and other types of corruption. Our criminal lawyers Sydney team have outlined more on this below.

However, at the start of 2022, Australia recorded its worst ever score on a key measure of corruption via Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index (‘CPI’).

Whilst Australia remains well above the global average, it has experienced a four-point drop from its standing in recent years, and is currently equal to Hungary, and behind New Zealand, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

This has been largely attributed to the absence of a Federal anti-corruption commission, and a failure to reform foreign bribery laws to relegate lobbying and donations more stringently.

Each year, worldwide, it is estimated that over $1 trillion (USD) is paid in bribes, as outlined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Bribery offences across Australia address bribery of public officials, private agents, and even foreign officials.

 

Is Giving Bribe Legal? | Corruption Charges

What law does bribery break? Bribing is illegal warranting imprisonment and convictions in certain circumstances across our States and Territories of Australia outlined below.

Bribery can take many forms, from paying a bribe to a friend, police, doctor or a child.

 

Federal Corruption and Bribery Offences

The Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (‘the code’) criminalises bribery of Commonwealth and foreign officials.

As per section 141 of the code, it is a crime to dishonestly provide, offer, or cause a benefit to another person with the intent to influence a Commonwealth public official in the exercise of their duties.

Section 141(3) of the code accordingly provides that it is an offence for a Commonwealth public official to dishonestly ask for, receive, or agree to receive a benefit for themself or another person, with the intention of their duties being influenced.

As outlined in section 70.2 of the code, it is also an offence to provide or cause a benefit to be provided to another person, where:

  • that benefit is not legitimately due to that person,
  • the benefit was provided with the intent to influence the exercise of a foreign public official’s duties, and
  • it was provided in order to obtain a business or a business advantage.

A defence to bribing a foreign official includes providing it was a ‘facilitation payment’.

Facilitation payments are minor payments made to a foreign public official for the purpose of speeding up minor routine government action, which is recognised under Australian law.

What is the punishment for bribing and corruption for federal offences?

The maximum penalties for bribing a Commonwealth or foreign official in Australia is 10 years imprisonment and/or a $2,220,000 fine.

If the offence is committed by a corporation (company), the maximum penalty is either a fine amounting the greatest of either:

  • $22,200,000, or
  • Three times the value of the benefit that the corporation derived from the conduct constituting the offence, or
  • 10% of the annual turnover of the body corporate during the period of 12 months ending at the end of the month in which the conduct constituting the offence occurred.

 

Bribery and Corruption Offences in New South Wales

In NSW, Part 4A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) criminalises corruption and bribery.

The legislation was designed to target corruption in the private sector, but also in effect criminalises a wide range of bribery offences in both the public and private sectors.

As per section 249B(1) of the Crimes Act, it is an offence for an agent to corruptly receive or solicit any benefit:

  • as an inducement or reward for doing or not doing something, or showing or not showing favour or disfavour to any person, in relation to the affairs or business of the agent’s principal, or
  • which would in any way tend to influence the agent to show, or not to show, favour or disfavour to any person in relation to the affairs or business of the agent’s principal.

Accordingly, it is also an offence for a person to corruptly give or offer to give such a benefit to any agent, as per section 249B(2).

What is the punishment for bribing in NSW?

The maximum penalty for bribing in NSW is 7 years imprisonment.

The term ‘agent’ includes, but is not limited to, any person employed by or acting on behalf of another person, any person serving under the Crown, a police officer, or a councillor.

Police officer bribes in NSW?

Section 200 of the Police Act 1990 (NSW), criminalises bribery of police officers. It is an offence for a member of the NSW Police Force to receives or solicit any form of bribe.

Accordingly, it is also an offence for any person, including a member of the NSW Police Force, to giver or offer any form of bribe to a member of the NSW Police Force, for the purpose of influencing the performance of their duty.

What is the penalty for bribing a police officer in NSW?

A maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment and/or a $22,000 fine applies to anyone who bribes a member of the NSW Police Force.

 

Queensland Bribery and Corruption Offences

Queensland’s legislative response to bribery focuses on prohibiting corruption with respect to elections, and members of Parliament.

As per section 98C(2) of the Criminal Code 1899 (QLD), it is an offence to give a benefit in order to influence or affect another person’s election conduct.

Accordingly, it is also prohibited to ask for or receive a benefit of any kind, on the understanding that the person’s election conduct will be influenced or affected, as per section 98C(1).

The maximum penalty is 7 years imprisonment.

If the conduct relates to an election of a member/s of the Legislative Assembly or an election for local government, a maximum penalty of 1 year imprisonment is applicable as per section 101.

Election conduct is defined to include the way in which the person votes, a person’s nomination as a candidate for an election and whether a person approves or disapproves of a candidate, party, or Bill or question submitted to electors at a referendum.

 

Western Australia Bribery and Corruption Offences

In Western Australia, bribery is criminalised under the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA), which targets bribery offences during election time, and of members of Parliament.

It is an offence to influence a member of Parliament’s vote, judgement, or action, by giving or promising any property or benefit to the relevant member, or any other person, as per section 61.

In a wider context, as per section 82, it is an offence for any public officer to obtain or seek to receive a bribe, or for any person to give or offer to provide a bribe to them. A maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment is applicable to the aforementioned offences.

A ‘public officer’ includes any of the following positions: police officer, minister, member of Parliament, Parliamentary Secretary, or a member, officer or employee of any authority, board, corporation, commission, local government, council of a local government, council, or committee.

As outlined in section 96, it is also an offence to promise or offer a reward to induce electoral conduct or take or seek a reward in such circumstances. A maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and/or a $24,000 fine is applicable.

‘Electoral conduct’ is defined to mean candidature in an election or withdrawal, a vote, or an omission to vote, support of, or opposition to, a candidate in an election and an application for a postal vote in an election.

 

South Australia Bribery and Corruption Offences

In South Australia, bribery is criminalised under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), which focuses on corruption of both private and public officials.

As per section 150, it is an offence to bribe a fiduciary to exercise an unlawful bias, or for a fiduciary to accept a bribe in such circumstances. A maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment is applicable.

The element of unlawful bias will involve whether the person gives or offers the benefit intending that the fiduciary will exercise their function in a particular way, and that they will not make appropriate disclosures to the principal.

A person will be regarded as a ‘fiduciary’ of another if they are: an agent of the other, an employee, a public officer, a partner in a partnership, an officer of a body corporate, a lawyer, or a person engaged to provide commercial advice.

Bribery of public officers, and public officers accepting bribes, is an offence as per section 249.

It is an offence for a person to improperly give, offer or agree to give a benefit to a public officer, as a reward for an act done or to be done, or an omission made or to be made in their official capacity or for an exercise of power or influence that the public officer has by virtue of their office. A maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable.

As outlined, it is an offence for a public officer or former public officer to seek, accept or agree to accept a benefit in such circumstances.

 

Northern Territory Bribery and Corruption Offences

Bribery is criminalised in the Northern Territory under the Criminal Code Act 1993 (NT), which targets bribery offences during election time, and of members of Parliament.

As per section 59, it is an offence for a person to, in order to influence a member of the Legislative Assembly in the exercise of their duty or authority as a member, give or procure a benefit of any kind to the relevant member of another.

It is also an offence for a member of the Legislative Assembly to solicit, receive or obtain a benefit upon the understanding that the exercise of their duty or authority as a member will be influenced or affected, as per section 60.

A maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment is applicable.

Section 88 of the Act criminalises bribery and accepting bribes to influence corrupt or improper practices at elections.

It provides that it is an offence to give, promise or offer to give any property or benefit to an elector to influence any act or omission in their capacity as an elector, or to induce another another’s vote.

Accordingly, it is also an offence to ask, receive or obtain a benefit in such circumstances.

A maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment is applicable.

 

Tasmania Bribery and Corruption Offences

In Tasmania, bribery is criminalised under the Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS), which focuses on bribery offences relating to members of Parliament, and public officials.

As per section 71, it is an offence for a Member of either House of Parliament to solicit, receive, or obtain a benefit, upon any understanding that the exercise of their duty will be influenced or affected.

Accordingly, it is an offence for any person to seek to influence a Member of either House of Parliament in their duty, via providing any property or benefit, as per section 72.

Furthermore, as per section 83, it is an offence for a public officer to corruptly solicit, receive, or obtain a benefit, on account of doing something or omitting to do something, in the discharge of the duties of their office.

Accordingly, it is also an offence to corruptly give, confer, or procure, a benefit to a public officer, in the outlined circumstances.

The maximum penalty applicable to the aforementioned offences is 21 years imprisonment or a fine.

 

Victoria Bribery and Corruption Offences

In Victoria, the offence of bribery largely comes under the common law.

This means that the law governing the offence comes solely from case law, rather than legislation by parliament.

The common law offence of bribery in Victoria, is namely ‘bribery of public official’ and thus will require that a person promised or offered a reward to a public official, to influence their behaviour.

Accordingly, it criminalises public officials who receive a reward to act corruptly.

Section 320 of the Crimes Act 1958 (VIC) outlines the maximum penalty for certain common law offences, providing that the maximum penalty for bribery of a public official is 10 years imprisonment.

However, bribery of police or protective services officers (referred to as ‘regulated persons’) is criminalised as per section 253 of the Victoria Police Act 2013 (Vic).

It is an offence to give, offer or promise a bribe to a regulated person, including to encourage them to neglect their duty, or improperly use an advantage provided by their position.

Accordingly, as per section 252, it is also an offence for a regulated person to take or solicit a bribe, including for the outlined circumstances.

A maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and/or a $44,380.80 fine (240 penalty units x current value of $184.92).

Published on 25/08/2022

AUTHOR Poppy Morandin

Poppy Morandin is the managing law clerk and an integral part of the team of criminal lawyers at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia . She's also a part of CDLA's content article production team. Poppy is passionate about law reform and criminal justice.

View all posts by Poppy Morandin