In the end, Brian Burke didn’t even have to defend himself. The WA Supreme Court yesterday found that he, his former business partner Julian Grill, and Carpenter-era political staffer Nathan Hondros had no case to answer on charges of corruption brought by the Crime and Corruption Commission in WA. A criminal without a crime.
What’s next — the CCC investigates Lord Voldemort for scaring children, perhaps?
Perhaps it’s time the CCC was forced to explain what good they actually do to those who pay their wages. Its efforts have been so maladroit that even perennial corruption fighter John Quigley has given up on it, calling for the Commission itself to be investigated. It’s hard to argue otherwise.
Not only does the CCC not have a successful prosecution for corruption to its credit, the prosecutions it has brought have been so lacking in evidence that the WA Supreme Court hasn’t even required the defendants to mount a defence. It’s pathetic.
Never mind Brian Burke; the list of losers is as long as the list of winners is short. Politicians have lost their careers. Public servants have been publicly traduced and humiliated. The taxpayers, most pertinently, have funded this whole circus to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
And for what? $37,500 in fines. No jail time. Not even any convictions. Nothing but a few cheap headlines — the most expensive cheap headlines, perhaps, in the history of journalism.
The CCC likes to claim it’s simply an investigatory body. One that conducts its hearings in public on a whim, of course. One where your lawyer can’t object. One where you have no right to silence. One that is constructed with the express purpose of demolishing every tenet of natural justice imaginable.
And what is the result? With advantages that would make a Russian show trial prosecutor blush and a budget pushing $100 million over the past five years, what has the CCC delivered for West Australians? Two convictions — both for simply lying to the commission itself — and $37,500 in fines.
WA taxpayers have a right to expect better than this from their public servants. They have a right to expect prosecutions based on evidence and not emotion. They have a right to expect better than capricious abuses of power from a body as powerful as the CCC.
The most obvious and necessary change is to remove from the Commission the power to prosecute as well investigate targets. Given that the establishing legislation gives them no such explicit powers — they have simply aggregated that duty to themselves — the first port of call in restoring some checks, balances and sanity to the process should be to ensure that only the DPP can make the decision to prosecute.
Previously, if someone was called before the commission, the public assumed they were guilty. Now the public is more inclined to think they’re innocent, such are the bungles at 186 St Georges Terrace.
If the CCC is to survive with any public support or respect whatsoever, it must be cleaned out root and branch. There must be an inquiry into the decisions and actions of the commission over the past four or five years: their bases, effectiveness and execution. The legislation establishing its powers may even need to be revisited. And if it takes heads to roll in a manner reminiscent of Robespierre, so be it.
The commission tried every trick in the Salem handbook when it came to Brian Burke; one half-expected to see him thrown in the water, protesting his innocence by drowning. Burke may not be a sympathetic figure, but that’s hardly the point. The CCC has dangerous powers, completely unacceptable in a modern democracy, and a history of judicial incompetence and emotive decision making that would embarrass an OJ Simpson juror.
The WA public cannot go on funding these donkeys. It’s time for the investigators to be investigated.