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Anti-corruption body should have retrospective powers, committee told

By Ian Bushnell - 25 July 2017 7
Feathered clouds at Manuka Oval. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Issues concerning Manuka Oval have been listed as reasons for an Independent Integrity Commission to be established in the ACT.

Any new anti-corruption body in the ACT should have retrospective powers to investigate issues of concern that occurred before its establishment, a Legislative Assembly committee heard yesterday (24/7/17).

Former Independent candidate for the Assembly Marea Fatseas, and the deputy chair of the Inner South Canberra Community Council, John Edquist, told the Select Committee on an Independent Integrity Commission that there were recent issues that highlighted the need for an anti-corruption body in the ACT.

Ms Fatseas, who is also the chair of the ISCCC but appearing as an individual, listed the Brumbies land deal in Griffith, the abortive land swap around Manuka Oval involving the Canberra Services Club, and the unsolicited development proposal for Manuka Oval, while Mr Edquist questioned some of the Land Development Agency’s land purchase decisions.

“We already have some examples and they need to be cleared up,” Ms Fatseas said. “When those examples aren’t dealt with they become corrosive and leads to a lack of confidence in the community that our taxpayers’ money, rates that we pay, are not being used to best effect.

“We need to address some of those  burning issues that are still concerning the community.”

Mr Edquist said some of the land purchasing decisions of the LDA were anomalous to say the least.

“Either the Land Development Agency had the most weird bureaucratic processes, and somebody should have their pay docked for allowing that to go on, or there was much worse going on,” he said.

Mr Edquist said it would be silly for any integrity commission to only look at matters from when it was established,  so long as it focused on issues within the statute of limitations.

“If there have been improper, particularly illegal, activities, they should be investigated,” he said.

Ms Fatseas questioned how there could be massive public expenditures for Manuka Oval, such as the new media centre, without a land management plan, which she said was a legislative requirement.

“I just don’t know how we can get to this point,” she said.

Mr  Edquist said any integrity commission should be based on the NSW ICAC model and have a broad definition of corruption to include maladministration, not just criminal activity.

He said it would be a waste of money for it not to hold public hearings and that it should be able to initiate its own inquiries, compel witnesses and conduct covert operations such as wire tapping.

Ms Fatseas said it should be established within the year so there was good time for it to be set up and to be working.

Mr Edquist said the sooner it was set up the better, suggesting the person to lead it should come from outside the ACT and be on a fixed term.

“If they’re doing their job they’re going to make enemies,” he said.

The committee hearing is streamed at http://aod.parliament.act.gov.au/

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7 Responses to
Anti-corruption body should have retrospective powers, committee told
bigred 8:15 am 30 Jul 17

devils_advocate said :

JC said :

Think you missed the word powers. It adds context to retrospective. To use your cop analogy you hire a new cop for a specific job you set the terms of reference for that job in this case op says they need to be able to investigate the past not just keep the current clean.

Yes, but any investigation/audit/inquiry is necessarily looking back at events that happened in the past. I don’t see anything in the above that’s suggesting some new standard of conduct or legal requirement, so it would be very strange, to my mind, to entertain the question of whether an enforcement agency – even a newly established one – should be somehow barred from investigating incidents that occurred in the past.

“Statutes of limitations” or statutory bars to legal action generally run for quite a while in criminal cases. I can’t see any possible justification for saying that the corruption body would somehow be limited to investigating things that occurred after its appointment.

Yes, unless you or your cronies are likely to be subject to an investigation by a body you were cornered into creating, perhaps.

devils_advocate 11:42 am 28 Jul 17

JC said :

Think you missed the word powers. It adds context to retrospective. To use your cop analogy you hire a new cop for a specific job you set the terms of reference for that job in this case op says they need to be able to investigate the past not just keep the current clean.

Yes, but any investigation/audit/inquiry is necessarily looking back at events that happened in the past. I don’t see anything in the above that’s suggesting some new standard of conduct or legal requirement, so it would be very strange, to my mind, to entertain the question of whether an enforcement agency – even a newly established one – should be somehow barred from investigating incidents that occurred in the past.

“Statutes of limitations” or statutory bars to legal action generally run for quite a while in criminal cases. I can’t see any possible justification for saying that the corruption body would somehow be limited to investigating things that occurred after its appointment.

JC 6:12 pm 27 Jul 17

devils_advocate said :

These powers would not be ‘retrospective’.
“Retrospective’ refers to situations where someone did an act, in the knowledge it was fully legal at that time, and then later a law is passed rendering that act – which occurred prior to the law being passed – illegal. That is not what is being suggested here.

If someone has done something illegal, the mere fact that they later hire a new cop to investigate that act – which was illegal at the time – does not give the law retrospective application.

Think you missed the word powers. It adds context to retrospective. To use your cop analogy you hire a new cop for a specific job you set the terms of reference for that job in this case op says they need to be able to investigate the past not just keep the current clean.

bigred 5:22 pm 27 Jul 17

devils_advocate said :

These powers would not be ‘retrospective’.
“Retrospective’ refers to situations where someone did an act, in the knowledge it was fully legal at that time, and then later a law is passed rendering that act – which occurred prior to the law being passed – illegal. That is not what is being suggested here.

Incorrect. There will need to be an ICAC Act authorising the operations of the new body. While the commencement date will be presumably a future date, the legislation will need to make it very clear that the authority to use the ICAC’s powers covers past behaviours and to collect evidence of past misdeeds. This will presumably include coercive powers.

If someone has done something illegal, the mere fact that they later hire a new cop to investigate that act – which was illegal at the time – does not give the law retrospective application.

devils_advocate 9:55 am 27 Jul 17

These powers would not be ‘retrospective’.
“Retrospective’ refers to situations where someone did an act, in the knowledge it was fully legal at that time, and then later a law is passed rendering that act – which occurred prior to the law being passed – illegal. That is not what is being suggested here.

If someone has done something illegal, the mere fact that they later hire a new cop to investigate that act – which was illegal at the time – does not give the law retrospective application.

Garfield 1:40 pm 26 Jul 17

bigred said :

Yes, without retrospective powers there would be a wait of many years before the beast became useful. I see both sides of the argument about public hearings, but think the public interest test would be better met if significant hearings were held in public. Yes, the Commissioner will be an interesting appointment considering the small size of the jurisdiction.

They absolutely have to be able to investigate the past. I think any political party arguing otherwise would be raising a red flag that they have something to hide.

bigred 6:56 pm 25 Jul 17

Yes, without retrospective powers there would be a wait of many years before the beast became useful. I see both sides of the argument about public hearings, but think the public interest test would be better met if significant hearings were held in public. Yes, the Commissioner will be an interesting appointment considering the small size of the jurisdiction.

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