Watchdog with bite: Icac claims another prime minister with the disappearance of Gladys Berejiklian | Independent Commission Against Corruption

By on October 2, 2021 0

The Prime Minister’s anger was palpable, his target familiar.

Like so many politicians before her, Gladys Berejiklian blamed her untimely demise at the feet of the Independent Commission against Corruption.

She accused him of suing her on “historical issues” that had already been investigated and explained, all at a time when the state was in the throes of a deadly Covid-19 epidemic .

“My resignation as Prime Minister could not have come at a worse time, but the timing is completely out of my control as the Icac has chosen to take this step during the toughest weeks of the toughest times of the year. history of the state. This is the prerogative of Icac. she said.

His comments are likely to trigger the usual barrage of criticism from Icac. That it is out of control, that it is destroying the careers of otherwise good leaders and expanding investigations far beyond their original tenure.

For others, like former Icac assistant attorney Geoffrey Watson, SC, the case is a perfect example of the commission’s unprecedented strength and independence.

Icac, he says, has once again shown his dedication to pursuing allegations of corruption, regardless of the political and public pressure he exerts on himself in doing so.

Icac forced the resignation of Liberal Prime Minister Barry O’Farrell for a $ 3,000 bottle of Grange Hermitage. Photograph: Julian Smith / AAP

Delaying the timing of his announcement, he says, would have been a political act, an act that a truly independent body like NSW Icac cannot accept.

“It’s just a very strong spirit – I know that personally – a strong spirit of ‘we’re going to follow the facts wherever they go, we don’t care about the politics,'” Watson told the Guardian.

“When I was there, I never heard anyone express a political point of view, that’s how it works, so when it comes to making decisions, those kinds of considerations go through the window. They are not there, and it is so important.

Berejiklian’s resignation adds yet another scalp to the list of NSW politicians presented by Icac, the country’s oldest corruption commission.

Armed with powerful powers and trained investigators and lawyers, the commission has pursued Liberal and Labor figures with equal vigor in recent years.

The latest major scandal involved a $ 100,000 bag of money deposited at Labor Party headquarters by Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo.

The various revelations from that public inquiry engulfed the Labor branch of state and dragged down MPs, including Bill Shorten, before forcing the suspension and resignation of NSW Secretary General Kaila Murnain.

Five years earlier, in 2014, Icac forced the resignation of Liberal Prime Minister Barry O’Farrell who fell on his sword after misleading the investigation into receiving a $ 3,000 bottle from Grange Hermitage, although unintentionally.

Tony Harris, the former New South Wales auditor general, said Berejiklian’s resignation shows the continuing “bite” the Icac rightly continues to show.

Kaila Murnain
NSW Labor Party Secretary Kaila Murnain leaves the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption public inquiry. Photograph: Joel Carrett / AAP

“This not only shows you that everyone needs an Icac, including the federal parliament, but it also shows you that you always have to be on the lookout for abuse of power, even if only to use it. ‘taxpayers’ money to buy their election results, “he told ABC.

“Fearless”: endemic corruption and the birth of Icac

On May 26, 1988, Prime Minister Nick Greiner ran for the New South Wales parliament and argued for a strong anti-corruption body.

There was little ambiguity from the Liberal leader. He was “appalled” by the reputation NSW had gained, not only in Australia but around the world, for its corruption.

In the years preceding its creation, a minister had been jailed for corruption, two other ministers had been investigated for corruption, and a magistrate had been jailed for obstructing the course of justice. Police commissioners and deputy commissioners have been charged with criminal offenses and judicial figures have been implicated in a series of investigations and court cases.

“No government can maintain its claim to legitimacy as long as there is a cloud of suspicion and doubt hanging over the NSW government,” said Greiner.

“I am determined that my government will be free from this doubt and suspicion; that from then on, the people of that state will have confidence in the integrity of their government and that they will have an institution where they can complain about corruption, confident that their grievances will be addressed. ‘a fearless and honest investigation. “

Former NSW Premier Nick Greiner
Former NSW premier Nick Greiner has become the first prime minister forced to resign due to an Icac investigation. Photograph: Alan Porritt / AAP

This fearlessness immediately manifested itself. In his first year, he investigated national party donations, involving the leader of nationals and exerting significant political pressure on himself.

But the body Greiner created would soon come back to bite him.

In 1992, he became the first Prime Minister forced to resign due to an Icac investigation, after being accused of abusing his position to obtain the resignation of an independent MP for political purposes.

Icac’s adverse claim against Greiner was subsequently overturned on appeal. Since the case, Greiner has publicly defended the Icac from its detractors.

Center for Public Integrity chairman and former Icac deputy commissioner Anthony Whealy said Icac’s long history is one of its many strengths.

“You have good investigative teams, good commissioners and, I think, a fearless approach to investigating integrity,” he told The Guardian.

“Whether it’s a prime minister, a senior politician or a high-level bureaucrat, or just an official pushing paper across a desk, it makes no difference to Icac.

“It examines the question of whether corruption was involved. “

Funding problems and criticism of the “star room”

In 2019, Chief Commissioner Peter Hall issued a stern warning about Icac’s future.

An impending funding shortfall threatened to undermine the commission’s ability to do its job. The back office had been cut and cut to deal with previous funding cuts, Hall said. Now there was a risk to his “investigators, lawyers and other key staff”.

“You have to do something, you have to do it quickly,” he said.

Hall has also repeatedly expressed concern about the tension created by relying on the regular budget process to distribute money to the commission.

In 2019, Icac commissioner Peter Hall issued a stern warning about the future of Icac.
In 2019, Icac commissioner Peter Hall issued a stern warning about the future of Icac. Photograph: Joel Carrett / AAP

Icac remained dependent on money from the very government it was supposed to investigate.

“If the funding of the commission under the persuasion or influence of the executive branch of government, or for any other reason, is reduced or limited, this would of course cause considerable damage to the ability of the commission to function.

Nothing has been done since Hall’s warnings. Earlier this year, Hall again called the ongoing funding arrangement unsatisfactory and illegal.

“We are still here with an independent commission that is supposed to protect the public interest,” he said. “However, this is still subject to the control and influence of the executive government.”

The risk to state agencies fighting corruption from their political masters was highlighted this week in South Australia.

Responding to a series of unsuccessful lawsuits, the South African parliament rushed to pass legislation emptying the powers of the Icac and potentially protecting politicians from the operations of the state’s Icac law.

A group of prominent former judges and Icac commissioners have warned that the changes have decimated the body’s ability to investigate corruption.

Whealy says that, for the most part, NSW governments have avoided similar knee-jerk legal reactions.

“I think it’s a good thing that hasn’t happened in NSW,” Whealy said.

But the work of NSW Icac has also been the subject of criticism from the federal sphere.

Deputy Attorney General Amanda Stoker, in justifying the Coalition’s much-criticized anti-corruption commission proposal, described the NSW organ as a star chamber, which undermined the presumption of innocence.

“NSW Icac’s extended powers and public processes reverse this model, unfairly destroying reputations and careers, often in search of the basic political advantage of a public scandal,” she wrote.

This is a persistent grievance expressed by critics of the Icac.

Another is that Icac’s investigations change focus, over and over again, until they end up investigating issues they never initially considered, like the Maguire grants, and cut down. targets that were never planned, like O’Farrell in 2014.

Watson has an easy line.

“I was there when the going started to take a turn for the worse. The question is: what are you going to do, turn your back on it? It is so important to follow where the facts take you.

“One of the great things about public inquiries in particular is that people come forward, sometimes they come forward and they’re pretty scared to do it. Some of them are really afraid to reveal information, ”he said. “You are finding out more and more, that’s good, I take that on a very positive side.”

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