South Australia will get a full-blown anti-corruption commission after all and the world according to Jay will be a better place. Premier Jay Weatherill yesterday firmly slapped down Mike Rann’s objections, which were always fatuous, and announced the creation of an Independent Commission against Corruption.
It’s one thing to put your stamp on a new government but what Weatherill did was stomp all over his predecessor.
“I believe good governments have nothing to hide,” the new premier said. Whack, take that, Mike.
Goodness only knows how Attorney-General John Rau felt as he stood alongside Weatherill for the joint ICAC media announcement yesterday. Rau had run the Rann anti-line for such a long time.
Even as far back as June 2008, long before he became A-G, Rau told the upper house: “One of the problems with these commissions is that all around the world where they have been established there is a tendency for them to try to justify themselves by producing more and more sensational results, because they are a results-driven thing.”
Now he has the job of preparing the new legislation to create an ICAC and it will be everything Mike Rann didn’t want.
Only last week, on the final day of his administration, Rann was saying anti-corruption commissions across Australia had not been successful as corruption fighters. A “carnival of lawyers”, he once called them.
Almost no one agreed with him, except perhaps for the SA Police Association. Even the SA Director of Public Prosecutions Steve Pallaras thought there should be an ICAC.
Rann’s position was always untenable. Of course corruption exists in public administration in SA. To try and pretend otherwise, that somehow this state is uniquely holier than the other states, never washed.
Rann ducked the issue for years, which increasingly made it look as if his administration had murky secrets it did not wish to be investigated at any price.
His fall-back position was to propose that a national ICAC be established, a lead balloon since anti-corruption commissions already operated in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania, with another in the pipeline in Victoria.
When that tactic failed, Rann came up with sheep wrapped in wolf’s clothing, an Office of Public Integrity on a risible budget. Public trust had nothing to do with it.
Strip away Rann’s one-stop-shop spin and the OPI was simply a referral agency to receive complaints, process them and flick them on to existing corruption bodies such as the police and the Ombudsman.
Weatherill is sticking with the OPI as a complaint filtering mechanism. The added difference is having a real ICAC to investigate public agencies.
The ICAC Commissioner will have the coercive power to search and seize, to conduct electronic surveillance and undercover operations and to compel answers from witnesses.
The commissioner will be directly answerable to the Parliament, as happens with the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman; and Weatherill deserves another tick for promising to introduce a legislated code of conduct for MPs. Some of them will be squirming.
At a cost of $32 million over five years, there are already suggestions it won’t be enough money to cover ICAC’s expenses. Still, it’s a start.
“We want to ensure we maintain confidence in our public institutions,” Weatherill said yesterday.
Trouble is, the ICAC inquiries almost always will be conducted in-camera. It will need careful watching, too.
*This article was originally published at InDaily