Megan Latham

NSW anti-corruption commissioner Megan Latham resigned today, forced out by Premier Mike Baird’s newly passed legislation weakening the Independent Commission Against Corruption ’s powers.

Latham will return to the bench of the NSW Supreme Court early next year.

In a brief media statement, Latham said:

“I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked at the Commission.

“I am particularly privileged to have observed first-hand the skill and dedication of the Commission’s staff who deserve great credit for the exposure of corruption in this State.”

As she is returning to sit on the Supreme Court, she declined to comment any further.

Latham has been the victim of a concerted campaign by disparate political, legal and media forces who questioned her no-holds-barred approach to fighting public sector corruption.

She fell foul of Liberal, National and Labor politicians when she followed former commissioner David Ipp’s lead in pursuing Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald, Liberal ministers and backbenchers and the granting of mining and development licences to leading business entrepreneurs.

[Baird goes after ICAC head like Abbott hunted Triggs]

Those who fell from high government office during her reign included premier Barry O’Farrell, resources and energy minister Chris Hartcher and police minister Mike Gallacher, as well as a dozen other Liberal MPs.

When she investigated the Liberal Party’s 2011 campaign donations scandal in Sydney, Newcastle, Gosford and Canberra she became a prime Liberal target.

Only the president of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, has faced such political hostility. A team of journalists from The Australian became the conduit for articles criticising Latham’s methodology and demanding her removal.

Chief among her critics were Graham “Richo” Richardson, the former NSW ALP general secretary, commercial radio shock jock Alan Jones, and NSW deputy crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen SC.

[Mayne: News Corp’s anti-ICAC campaign looking stranger by the day]

Under new legislation, the incoming “chief commissioner” will be supported by two part-time commissioners, all with judicial backgrounds.

Controversially, public hearings can only be conducted if a majority of the three commissioners agree. It means that the “chief commissioner”, whoever gets the job, can be outvoted at any time by the two part-timers.

Before the Baird government’s amendments, public hearings and the “naming and shaming” of alleged wrongdoers was a primary instrument in the arsenal of corruption-fighting. However, in future, most investigations will be conducted behind closed doors without media or public oversight. Public hearings will become a thing of the past and held only occasionally.

The judicial appointees can be expected to show felicitous consideration for the “feelings” of politicians, lawyers and corporate types who are caught with their sticky fingers in the jam jar.

Latham’s departure is truly the end of an era. Brown papers bags are back in fashion in “open-for-business” NSW.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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