by: Chris Merritt, Legal Affairs Editor, The Australian, November 13, 2015.
For better or worse, Mike Baird has linked his fate to an organisation whose competence and rigour are seriously in doubt. It’s bad politics, bad public policy and bad law.
The NSW Premier has chosen the worst possible time to hand more power to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
After months of scrutiny by The Australian, ICAC has been revealed to be an organisation over-endowed with hubris and under-endowed with competence. It needs new leadership, a cultural revolution and more rigorous procedures.
Baird should demand much higher standards from ICAC so the community can be confident its enormous coercive powers will not be unleashed against more innocent people.
He should be outlining real reforms that will reassure the community that Margaret Cunneen, Andrew Poole and John Kinghorn will be the last victims to be wrongly accused.
Instead, he has greatly reduced his ability to stop the rot. He has rewarded ICAC’s poor performance with powers that erode the principle that prosecutors and investigators should be separate.
If Baird truly believed his rhetoric about wanting a robust ICAC, he would shake the place up, demand higher standards and empower his parliament’s ICAC oversight committee with everything it needs to hold this agency to account.
Instead of addressing the problems of today, Baird’s policy initiative seems to respond to the politics of five years ago when championing ICAC was considered to be a smart way of wedging Labor.
Today, championing ICAC has carved a deep rift in government ranks. Those who cherish the rule of law have forged a loose alliance with those who understand that ICAC’s powers, when misused, threaten liberty.
Baird seems unwilling to respond to the fact significant parts of his government have lost confidence in ICAC and are demanding change. He is entering dangerous territory.
Plenty of Liberals are dumbfounded that Baird has failed to discern that an unreformed ICAC is the problem, not the solution.
From here, things can only get worse. ICAC’s independent inspector, David Levine, is expected to detail the abuse of power in the catastrophic pursuit of Cunneen.
Two civil cases have been lodged against ICAC alleging evidence tampering and bias: one from the Obeid family and one from former Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy. If either succeeds, Baird will have a political disaster on his hands.
But the greatest test for ICAC is the pending criminal case against former Labor minister Ian Macdonald on charges of misconduct in public office. If that case collapses, Baird will have nowhere to go. He will be locked in ICAC’s embrace.
And he might have another problem: the criminal courts take a dim view of politicians who imply those on trial are guilty before their case is heard.
(WTF) used with permission.