Adjourned debate on second reading
(Continued from 21 June 2017)
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (17:05 :34): The bill to amend the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act will give the commissioner the discretionary powers of a royal commission when investigating matters of maladministration. In effect, this will allow the commissioner to hold public hearings for these matters. I have been lobbied by the government on this bill and I understand that they have a number of concerns with this suggestion. They are concerned that members of the public will not be able to distinguish the difference between investigations of maladministration and corruption. The assumption is that, because the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption is investigating a matter, it must be a corruption matter, as indicated by their title.
The government are also concerned that anyone called as a witness to an investigation will automatically be regarded by the public as being guilty of corruption, notwithstanding the fact that they have only been asked to provide information about a maladministration matter. The government were concerned that public hearings would only benefit the media, and the public would be distorted presented with a distorted view of the investigation in an attempt to gain copy and ratings. Finally, the government were concerned that the account of one witness would be painted out to be the truth if publicised through the media, notwithstanding any evidence to the contrary that may merge further in the investigation.
I cannot say that I am swayed by any of these arguments. By this logic, the government would have court proceedings and parliamentary inquiries held confidentially. These matters are held in public for transparency and to give the community confidence that investigations and inquiries are conducted in a manner that is fair and balanced. This bill will be one step removed from these practices. Not all examinations will be held in public—only those where the commissioner believes that there is public interest and where it is appropriate.
I believe that parliament should be guided by the commissioner on this matter. Late last year during the debate of the ICAC bill, I flagged that I had discussed with parliamentary counsel amending the act to allow the commissioner discretionary powers to hold public hearings. This was in response to the commission's recommendations in his report on Gillman. Unfortunately, the advice I received from parliamentary counsel was that I could not amend that bill to include those provisions, so it should come as no surprise that I will be supporting the Hon. Mr Hood's bill today.
The commissioner will have the discretion to decide if and when matters should be held in public, based on whether it is in the public interest to do so. The commissioner's discretion can also be exercised to hold parts of the investigation in public and parts in private. Matters of maladministration only relate to the conduct of public officers and authorities. These are funded by the taxpayer, and as such, they should have a right to hear about these matters. They should not be kept in the dark until the investigation is finalised. If there is a matter that is of public interest, then taxpayers should know the details if the commissioner deems it to be appropriate.
The commissioner's powers under the current act are already very broad, and much relies on the commissioner's discretion. The government had enough confidence in the commissioner to recommend their appointment and they should have enough confidence in the individual to make the right decisions and not abuse powers given to them under the act.