Major reforms to streamline ICAC’s operations and powers unanimously passed by Upper House

23 September 2021

Significant changes that will streamline the functions and powers of the state’s anti-corruption watchdog – the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) – last night passed the Upper House with the unanimous support of all parties. 

The new laws - proposed by SA-BEST MLC and Chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee into Reputational Damage Harm or Adverse Outcomes Resulting from ICAC Investigations, Frank Pangallo – will see ICAC’s powers and responsibilities focused to handle only matters of serious and systemic corruption. 

The responsibility for misconduct and maladministration will now be investigated by the State Ombudsman, while a separate and independent Office of Public Integrity – currently operated under the ICAC umbrella – will now also be established. 

The new laws will also see the establishment of the Office of the Inspector – which will replace the current ICAC Reviewer - with enhanced powers of review and oversight of ICAC and reporting directly to Parliament. 

Frank said the wide-ranging changes were long overdue – and were partly based on recommendations made in a report by Parliament’s Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee (CPIPC) – which he also chairs – last year and evidence heard before the abovementioned Select Committee he chairs. 

“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, changes to the way ICAC functions were needed,” he said. 

“The new changes are designed to make ICAC a more streamlined, more effective corruption-busting tool – and critically, a more accountable integrity body than it has been.” 

Other changes voted for last night include: 

  • ICAC will now be known as the Independent Commission Against Corruption – removing the title of Commissioner;
  • the introduction of effective protections for persons facing investigation by the Commission;
  • the better management of public statements and reporting to protect people from reputational damage and harm;
  • introducing remedies 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 the new laws were formulated with the support of members from all sides in Parliament and are largely 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. 

“These new laws are extremely timely and I thank all sides of politics for supporting their successful passage through the Upper House,” Frank said. 

“Anti-corruption and integrity agencies have enormous powers bestowed upon them, and it is a societal expectation they use these powers 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 – and history shows that hasn’t always been the case. 

“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 one of the most significant changes to ICAC’s operations and functions is the expansion of the role of the ICAC Reviewer - to be known as the Office of the Inspector. 

The Inspector will 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 – while also addressing concerns there hasn’t been proper accountability and oversight of ICAC’s operations. 

“These reforms in no way weaken the role of our integrity agencies. Rather they are carefully considered reforms largely based on the recommendations made by the CPIPC intended to improve the performance and standing of the integrity agencies in the community and give the public confidence and trust in them.”

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