Major overhaul of ICAC operations and powers proposed by SA-BEST
Significant changes to the functions and powers of the state’s anti-corruption watchdog – the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) – are being proposed by SA-BEST.
SA-BEST MLC and Chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee into Reputational Damage Harm or Adverse Outcomes Resulting from ICAC Investigations, Frank Pangallo, today introduced proposed new legislation, which if successful, would see the establishment of the Office of the Inspector – replacing the current ICAC Reviewer - with enhanced powers of review and oversight of ICAC and reporting directly to Parliament.
ICAC’s powers and responsibilities would also be streamlined to handle only matters of serious and systemic corruption.
The responsibility for misconduct and maladministration would be investigated by the State Ombudsman, while a separate and independent Office of Public Integrity – currently operated under the ICAC umbrella – would be established.
Frank said the wide-ranging changes were based on recommendations made in a report by Parliament’s Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee (CPIPC) – which he chairs – last year.
“Anti-corruption and integrity agencies have a critical role to play in our society because serious corruption and misconduct in our public sector must not be allowed to flourish unchecked,” Frank said.
“However, after eight years of substantial expenditure, secret investigations, underwhelming results, controversy and criticism, an examination of its performance by Parliament – ICAC’s creator - is now appropriate,” he said.
“People under investigation – many of whom went on to be completely exonerated - have suicided and/or attempted suicide, careers have been ruined, relationships destroyed, and tens of millions of taxpayers money wasted through investigations and criminal trials that should never have seen the light of day.
“The changes I am proposing are designed to make ICAC a more streamlined, more effective corruption-busting tool – and critically, a more accountable integrity body than it has been.
“ICAC’s legislated ‘curtain of secrecy’ has effectively shielded its conduct and operations from proper scrutiny by the Parliament. That must stop!”
Other proposed changes under Frank’s Private Member’s Bill include:
- ICAC be known as the Independent Commission Against Corruption – removing the title of Commissioner;
- building effective protections for persons facing investigation by the Commission;
- better managing public statements and reporting to protect people from reputational damage and harm;
- introducing remedies that the Investigator can apply when a person has suffered reputational damage.
- making the Office of Public Integrity (OPI) a separate entity which will no longer report to ICAC. Its’ role will be to receive and assess complaints about public administration from the public; assess reports about corruption, misconduct, and maladministration.
- matters of serious and systemic corruption would be referred to the ICAC while others are forwarded to inquiry agencies like SAPOL, the Ombudsman or Auditor General, and;
- provisions for the Inspector to recommend remedies - including compensation - where individuals have suffered severe undue prejudice to their reputations.
Frank said his proposed new legislation was formulated with the support of members from all sides in Parliament and is based on recommendations made by the CPIPC following a wide-ranging inquiry initiated in 2019.
That inquiry investigated matters of public integrity and anti-corruption measures, including the interrelationships with integrity and anti-corruption bodies, receiving 16 submissions from individuals and organisations, including SAPOL, ICAC, the Auditor General and the Ombudsman.
The report was tabled in December 2020 and contained 17 recommendations.
Frank said the CPIPC had anticipated the Attorney General, Vickie Chapman, would abide by her statutory obligation to respond to that important report within the designated four months.
Almost 10 months on, Ms Chapman is still yet to respond – and has not provided a reason why!
“These proposed new laws are extremely timely. Had it not been for the ICAC Select Committee I moved we would still be in the dark about some of its more spectacular failures and questionable tactics and powers exerted on hapless - and in many cases innocent – individuals,” Frank said.
“Anti-corruption and integrity agencies have enormous powers bestowed upon them, but it is an expectation they must always use these responsibly and within the law,” he said.
“People in their sights should expect to receive the fairness of natural justice and due process, as accorded to others in our community.
“Non-judicial investigations with coercive authority have been likened to star chambers.
“Anti-corruption bodies have increasingly assumed it is their role to determine guilt or innocence.
“They have extended their reach into prosecutions, into SAPOL and into the jurisdictions of the Ombudsman.
“Most concerning is the number of cases where their targets were presumed and publicly outed as guilty from the outset – guilty until proven innocent.”
Frank said the ICAC investigation – codenamed Operation Bandicoot - into police officers stationed at Sturt Police Station in 2014 and its investigation into former Renewal SA CEO, John Hanlon, were prime examples of ICAC’s spectacular failures but came at great costs to those investigated.
He said one of the most significant changes he is proposing is an expansion of the role of the ICAC Reviewer - to be known as the Office of the Inspector.
The Inspector would conduct annual reviews on the operations of both the ICAC and OPI; investigate complaints; and conduct investigations on the Inspector’s own motion or at the request of the Attorney General or the Crime and Public Integrity Committee.
Reports on reviews would be provided directly to the Parliament.
“The Inspector will have sweeping powers to carry out their reviews and are consistent with similar agencies in other states,” Frank said.
“The Inspector will ensure the significant authorities given to ICAC and the OPI are exercised within the law,” he said.
“There are also provisions for the Inspector to recommend remedies, including compensation, where individuals have suffered severe undue prejudice to their reputations.
“The current Reviewer’s scope for investigating complaints against ICAC and the OPI is extremely limited. The Office of the Inspector would address concerns there hasn’t been proper accountability and oversight of ICAC from its operations.
“The reforms I am proposing are not intended to weaken the role of our integrity agencies. Rather they are carefully considered amendments based on the recommendations made by the CPIPC – and provided to the Attorney General nearly a year ago,” Frank said.
“They are intended to improve the performance and standing of the integrity agencies in the community and give the public confidence and trust in them.”