Yet another attempt has been made to re-define the meaning of “corrupt conduct” as determined by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

An adverse finding of corrupt conduct against an MP, a local councillor or a public servant is ICAC’s major sanction in its battle to stem the culture of bribes, backhanders, favours, nepotism and promotions which permeate NSW.

The broad sweep of “corrupt conduct” has irritated and annoyed the political classes who argue that their careers can be easily ruined by an ICAC finding — even if they are never prosecuted or even convicted of an offence.

Four years ago Premier Morris Iemma asked senior counsel Bruce McClintock to conduct a comprehensive review of the ICAC Act of 1989 and to re-examine the definition of corrupt conduct.

McClintock came to the view that the current definition should be left as it is and he reported that he could see no way to change it for the better.

When he stepped down as ICAC Inspector at the end of last year, Graham Kelly renewed the call for changing the corrupt conduct definition.

Former solicitor Frank Terenzini, Labor MP for Maitland and chair of the all-party parliamentary committee on ICAC, told MPs that Kelly’s observations had been discussed by his committee and rejected. He said:

In narrowing the definition he (Kelly) suggested it should not apply to matters that would wholly constitute a disciplinary offence. He suggested a two-tiered system: one benchmark assessment for public servants who made allegations of corrupt conduct and another benchmark assessment for members of the public. Mr Kelly further suggested such reforms would do away with trivial complaints being reported to the commission.

And he continued:

I believe, however, as the chair of the committee — and I am supported by at least most committee members — that the definition of “corrupt conduct” should not remove the requirement of a disciplinary offence, it should not be placed into tiers, and it should not be narrowed in the hope that it will reduce the number of complaints.

Later this year Terenzini’s committee will conduct a 20-year review of the ICAC Act during which some MPs will launch a fresh attempt to subvert the under-funded and under-resourced anti-corruption watchdog which causes them so much pain and embarrassment. The pressure is unrelenting.

Peter Fray

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