(Debate, 15 November 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
It is a sad truth that when decisions by public officials can deliver private profit, some will take advantage of opportunities to use undue influence to achieve private benefits at the expense of public outcomes. ICAC provides some assurance that wrongdoing can be uncovered.
ICAC has exposed illegal donations and sham businesses created to conceal them, and personal favours to obtain advantageous government property leases, planning approvals, tenders, contracts and mining licences.
ICAC has implicated former and current members of Parliament from both sides, including friends and colleagues of people here. ICAC is the chief oversight body of the government and members of Parliament.
I have serious misgivings about the Independent Commission Against Corruption Amendment Bill.
While I support changes for procedural fairness, the bill seems predominantly aimed at changing the current commissioner and reducing public inquiries.
The commissioner has been strong in exposing government wrongdoing and seems to be targeted in this bill. There was not bipartisan support for the sacking and reappointment of the position. I will support the opposition’s amendment to roll the current commissioner over and this is the only way to assure the community that changes are not a vendetta against the current commissioner.
With regard to public inquiries, they are used when an issue is in the public interest. Public inquiries help uncover and deter corruption by public authorities and figures, and provide community confidence that there is an effective oversight system that will investigate wrongdoing.
Because of the media attention, public inquiries are more likely to result in policy and legislation changes to close loopholes that have provided opportunities for corruption. ICAC public inquiries contributed to the multi-partisan support that has ensured New South Wales has the strongest electoral funding laws in the country.
There is a valid argument that replacing the one-commissioner model with a three-commissioner one where two commissioners – one being the chief commissioner – must approve a public inquiry for it to proceed, is about protecting members and colleagues from future public adverse findings. The extra approval step could act as a barrier to a case going to public inquiry.
Because the two deputy commissioners will be appointed by Cabinet with veto power by the ICAC Committee, which can be stacked by the government of the day, the deputies could both be persons who do not believe in public inquiries. This model does not ensure community confidence in the process.
The current ICAC Commissioner believes the veto power should be vested in the commissioner instead, as is the case with the new Law Enforcement Conduct Commission. This is worth considering.
The bill also broadens the scope of who can be a commissioner making it even easier for the government of the day to cherry pick who it wants in that position, including former members of Parliament.
I have had little time to consider these very complex and important changes and the rushed approach of pushing the bill through only strengthens my concerns. I am not confident that the proposed structural changes are beneficial or necessary or that they are not about reducing oversight of members and the government. I cannot support the bill.