19 October 2021

Corruption watchdog's first report imminent as it prepares to grow phone-tap teeth

| Ian Bushnell
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Michael Adams

ACT Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams: Budget funding will help speed up its work and give it the ability to tap phones. Photo: IPCC.

The ACT’s corruption watchdog will publish its first report since it was established in 2019 in a week or so, according to Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams.

Mr Adams told Budget Estimates that the ACT Integrity Commission was concluding four investigative reports – two of which were quite substantial – and that it would be acquiring the “essential” ability to tap phones in its investigations.

“Two investigations are completed, which I will be reporting on within the next few weeks,” he said.

“One is almost completed subject to procedural fairness considerations. One is going to be finished by the end of the month, and procedural fairness requirements will induce a delay and possibly a change. And those are major matters.”

They are part of 10 full investigations and 12 preliminary investigations the Commission had undertaken from well over 100 complaint assessments.

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Mr Adams said that while no public hearings were planned, one particular matter may require them.

“We would ask the relevant people for their submissions on public hearings before we make a decision,” he said.

Mr Adams said the Commission had struggled with a lack of staff, an outdated IT system and COVID-19 delays, but funding in the recent Budget of $1.8 million would help speed up its work and give it the ability to tap phones.

The Commission would now be able to hire a couple of lawyers, upgrade the IT system to move to a full case management program and separate from the government’s Shared Services arrangement and set up a telephonic interception capability.

He said the lack of a wire-tapping capability had hamstrung at least two investigations.

Mr Adams said a wire-tapping capability had not been foreseen and included in the Commission’s original funding, but it was essential for its investigative work, and legislation was being drafted to enable it.

“A couple of investigations that we are now in the course of will be regrettably incomplete because of our inability to investigate that way,” he said.

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Mr Adams confirmed that government procurement was an important question and was in its sights.

He said not every report the Commission published would find fault.

“We report on an investigation which concludes that there is no corruption. They are very important also because they give the public a sense of confidence in the particular issues raised in the complaint,” he said.

“Not every report … will be condemnatory.”

Mr Adams also confirmed that there had not been any complaints made against any current or previous cabinet minister.

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