Labor baulks at ICAC reform

Premier Mike Baird's push for bipartisanship on a proposed overhaul of the NSW corruption watchdog has hit a roadblock, with Labor insisting that current ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham be guaranteed the top job.

Sydney Morning Herald, 15th November 2016

The opposition is also insisting Ms Latham be given veto rights over the appointment of two other part-time commissioners under a proposed move to a three-commissioner model.

Fairfax Media has learnt that a draft bill for the overhaul of the agency has been shared with the Opposition in a bid to get Labor on board.

The bill is being introduced into the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday by Mr Baird. It proposes shifting to a three-commissioner model and that the chief commissioner and at least one other commissioner must agree before a public inquiry can be held.

The government will also make it clear that Ms Latham will be invited to reapply for one of the new commissioner positions, despite her contract not expiring until 2019.

It is understood the government's view is that spilling the position is appropriate, given the agency's executive structure is being overhauled.

But Labor's shadow attorney-general, Paul Lynch, said the opposition would not agree unless Ms Latham is appointed to the top job.

"We are immovable on Megan Latham as chief commissioner," he said.

Labor is also insisting that the three-commissioner model operates in the same way as the new Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) in terms of appointments.

"Concurrence of the chief commissioner should be required for the appointment of the other commissioners," Mr Lynch said.

The bill also proposes that both the ICAC and the ICAC Inspector are required to give people "a reasonable opportunity to respond before including an adverse finding or opinion about the person in a report".

As well, it gives a person subject to an adverse finding the opportunity to have a summary of their response in an ICAC report.

The changes were recommended by a parliamentary committee on the watchdog in its report on ICAC Inspector David Levine's review of its powers.

Ms Latham has been lobbying NSW political leaders over changes.

In a letter obtained by Fairfax Media, Ms Latham warns they "have the real potential to compromise the commission's decision-making processes thereby undermining the commission's effectiveness as a leading anti-corruption agency".

Ms Latham highlights her concern with two recommendations the committee: that ICAC move to three commissioners and that a majority must agree before public or private hearings are held.

She says the recommendation for majority agreement before private hearings of people of interest are held is "surprising", given it did not feature in the committee's inquiry.

She says the committee's report is "silent" on the issue of concurrence of the chief commissioner on the appointment of other commissioners and says the LECC model should apply.

"Without the equivalent provisions, at the very least, in any proposed amendment to the ICAC Act, the three-commissioner 'model' will not maintain the confidence and trust of the NSW public," she writes.

"More importantly, the title 'chief commissioner' becomes illusory. There would be very few, if any, senior judicial officers who would be attracted to a role which has neither the appearance nor the substance of independence."

Balmain MP and Greens anti-corruption spokesman Jamie Parker criticised the proposed changes and Labor's approach.

"Labor's weak compromise still does not prevent the imposition of a three-commissioner model, which is clearly opposed by the ICAC and will only serve to undermine its corruption-fighting work," he said.

"The proposed changes are a transparent attempt by Labor and the Liberals to rein in the one body that keeps them honest," he said.

"We've already seen the government renege on their commitments to fully fund the ICAC, and strip it of close to $2 million, forcing it to close one of its four investigation teams.

"These latest changes will fatally undermine the independence of the commission, add unnecessary costs that should be spent on front-line investigations and sideline the existing anti-corruption focus of the commissioner."


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