It’s almost as if some of the leading lights in political, legal, police and academic circles and among WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission targets got together over the silly season and decided it was time to take a collective big stick to the state’s principal corruption and crime agency.

Many people have been concerned for some time over the extensive powers of the CCC and its perceived threat to civil liberties.

However, over recent days there has been such concerted criticism of the commission that it seems inevitable there will have to be a wide-ranging review of its operations and of the legislation that underpins it.

The new Parliamentary Inspector to the Corruption and Crime Commission, Mr Ken Martin QC, has made it plain that he will maintain the tough, independent line of his predecessor, Mr Malcolm McCusker QC.

Mr McCusker caused considerable angst to the CCC in disagreeing with the commission’s adverse findings in several prominent cases and over the extent of the Parliamentary Inspector’s powers.

Mr Martin has even gone so far as to question whether there is a need for a state-based agency such as the CCC. While acknowledging that State royal commissions will still be needed to investigate specific corruption issues, he favours a national body to coordinate the fight against organised crime.

Be that as it may, Mr Martin and Mr McCusker agree that the CCC should be tackling organised crime as its prime focus. And Premier Colin Barnett is also singing from the same song-sheet. However, the CCC says it cannot do this under the existing legislation.

The prime focus of the CCC up until now has been misconduct in the public sector, with politicians, police, lawyers, public servants and prominent citizens and lobbyists such as former premier Brian Burke and former ALP minister Julian Grill suffering adverse findings.

While there’s no great sympathy for Burke and Grill, there is considerable concern at the methods employed to trap them that have also been used against many others. These include surveillance, telephone taps and listening devices in private homes. The obligation of absolute secrecy on those interviewed by the CCC and the denial of legal representation have also caused disquiet.

No one in public life or any citizen dealing with such people or lobbyists or even journalists can be confident that they are not subject to surveillance, listening devices or phone taps.

Journalists going about their business of investigation and newsgathering also have been caught up in the CCC web. The most prominent was last year’s police raid on the Sunday Times, acting on a referral from the CCC, to investigate the origins of a leaked Cabinet document.

The police commissioner has since acknowledged that the raid should never have occurred and he says he won’t consent to any similar request.
But in other cases, journalists have been interviewed by CCC officers and sworn to absolute secrecy, with severe penalties hanging over their heads should they discuss any aspect of the interview with any person.

The architect of the CCC legislation, Shadow Attorney-General Jim McGinty, remains of the view that the CCC is needed to oversee behaviour in the public sector, but he agrees that the legislation needs to be amended to empower the CCC to investigate organised crime.

While reviewing the legislation, the Parliament should also scrutinise the powers and methods of the CCC to ensure that civil liberties are protected.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey