By Joe Bourke
The Coalition government last week passed a bill to review the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and determine its jurisdiction following a high court ruling that the commission would not be allowed to investigate Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.
Premier Mike Baird also announced that the government would legislate to ensure previous corruption findings would stick.
The bill had bipartisan support and the review will be carried out by an expert panel chaired by Murray Gleeson and Bruce McClintock, who conducted a review of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act in 2005.
The panel will report on ICAC’s jurisdiction, its appropriate powers, and consider whether any limits or extra powers should be applied to the Commission. The report is due by July 10.
Greens MP Jamie Parker told City Hub that although the Greens didn’t oppose the legislation, they were “disappointed that the government didn’t respond to ICAC’s call”. Mr Parker criticised the plan for a panel “with very wide ranging terms of reference”.
“We think there are very real concerns about this panel decision that the Premier has made,” he said.
“In the end, the Premier is holding ICAC in his hands. He and the government will decide what happens after the panel’s recommendations.”
ICAC’s past findings and future powers were brought into disrepute after the Cunneen case, prompting the commission to ask the government to appropriately extend their jurisdiction.
In a statement, ICAC said the case meant that they would be “unable to investigate or report on several current operations” and that two specific operations would be reverely restricted.
“In the Commission’s view, the narrow construction adopted by the majority in the High Court is contrary to the legislative intention evidenced by the second reading speech when the ICAC Act was first introduced, the analysis of the section in the report of the McClintock review of the ICAC Act and the ordinary meaning of the words used in the section,” it read.
Although the addition of the expert panel to the review has come under scrutiny, the government’s response to the Cunneen case has been well received
The decision to legislate to ensure that all previous findings of corruption will stand was applauded by all parties, and Mr Parker said this was a critical part of the bill.
When introducing the bill, Mike Baird said the government would “not tolerate corruption in the State, end of story”.
“A strong ICAC plays a vital role in investigating, exposing and preventing corruption involving or affecting public administration,” he said.
Opposition leader Luke Foley said the Oppostion was on a “unity ticket” on the legislation. Mr Foley welcomed the idea of having an expert panel recommend the best option for ICAC’s future, saying it would ensure ICAC acted within an appropriate jurisdiction while stilll ensuring “that those characters found to have engaged in corrupt conduct cannot wriggle their way out of it”.
“There has been much commentary in the three or so weeks since 15 April about what people understand or have understood to be the extent of ICAC’s powers concerning corrupt conduct, and a range of views have been put out,” he said.
“This is a contested debate; it is not simply the rogues who have put a view that at times ICAC may have gone too far.”
Whether or not the bill will limit or enhance the powers of the anti-corruption commission will be known on July 10, but some are concerned about any possible restrictions.
Before the bill was announced, Greens councillor Max Phillips tweeted “If you wanted to reduce ICAC’s powers, first you’d conduct a legal review to provide the cover”.
Mr Parker affirmed the Greens position in parliament, saying that the government must “maintain not only its jurisdiction but its powers”.
ICAC has not yet responded to the bill.