So the Australian Crime Commission has a personal file on its boss, Home Affairs Minister, Bob Debus. Who else is the ACC spying on, or gathering intelligence on, and why?
One way to interpret the notes taken by an ACC officer after he had dinner with Mr. Debus and his partner in the Northern Territory earlier this year, was that he was big noting himself to his superiors. Look at me, I had dinner with the Minister!
But even if that is the case, it raises a much more fundamental question — does the ACC have a practice of keeping dossiers on individuals its officers happen to come across in their travels? For example, no doubt during Operation Wickenby, the ACC’s secretive probe into tax avoidance, the organization’s officers came across information, gossip and title-tattle about well known public figures. Is all of this written down and housed in the Fort Knox style database of the ACC? If the Debus matter is any indication, then a lot of people have the right to feel that their privacy has been violated by the ACC.
The Debus revelations are one more reason why the ACC must be brought to account and made more transparent. It is an organization that holds secret hearings, that is allowed to flout the right to silence — a right enshrined in the Magna Carta — and which can have individuals fined or jailed if they reveal any information about investigations.
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The ACC is meant to be monitored and held accountable by an Intergovernmental Committee made up of Commonwealth and State law enforcement ministers, which has underneath it a Board. The Board is composed of the heads of the Federal Police, ASIO, Customs, the Attorney-General’s Department and the head of Australian Securities Commission.
What is missing in these governance arrangements is the presence of anyone genuinely independent of the ACC and its work. No wonder the ACC is rarely put under real scrutiny for its activities.
The ACC is a classic case of too much power being invested in an organization, without there being any effective check and balance to ensure those powers are not abused, as has obviously been the case of Mr. Debus.
Ironically, Mr. Debus has some real capacity to reform the ACC, because it is his job as Minister for Home Affairs. He should act now to ensure that the if the ACC has been overstepping the mark by intelligence gathering on other Australians, as it has in his case, then this should be revealed publicly and the offending documentation destroyed.