14 May 2019

Dennis Cowdroy to head ACT's anti-corruption body

| Ian Bushnell
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Dennis Cowdroy brings half-a-century of legal experience to the role. Photo: 12 Wentworth Selborne Chambers.

A former Federal Court and ACT Supreme Court judge has been appointed the ACT’s first Integrity Commissioner, after the Government’s preferred choice, Terence Higgins, was vetoed by the Canberra Liberals.

Dennis Cowdroy OAM QC received the unanimous support in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday when Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Joy Burch, moved the motion formally announcing the appointment of the person to lead the ACT’s new anti-corruption body.

Justice Cowdroy will start in the job on 1 August 2019.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who had been scathing of the Liberals’ decision to block Mr Higgins appointment because of his one-time ALP membership, said Justice Cowdroy brings with him more than half-a-century of legal experience, including service as a Justice on the Federal Court of Australia and an Acting Justice on the ACT Supreme Court.

Justice Cowdroy is a graduate of the University of Sydney, Kings College, and the University of London. He also holds a Diploma of Air and Space Law.

He became a solicitor in 1967 and was called to the NSW bar in 1971, taking silk in 1989.

He was a Justice of the Land and Environment Court of NSW from 1999 to 2006, and a Justice of the Federal Court of Australia and additional Judge of the ACT Supreme Court from 2006 to 2014.

He is a member of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

In April, a panel of three judges had nominated former ACT Chief Justice Higgins, who was a member of the Labor Party, a branch president and had served on its National Executive between 1986 and 1987. He resigned from the party in 1990 when he became a judge of the ACT Supreme Court.

The nomination needed to be supported by two-thirds of the Legislative Assembly.

Mr Barr said then that the Canberra Liberals’ decision looked ‘nasty and very personal’.

But Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said that past presidents of any political party were not appropriate to be the Commissioner overseeing politicians and public servants despite Mr Higgins fitting the criteria in the legislation.

“The inaugural Integrity Commission needs to be beyond reproach,” Mr Coe said then.

“We must seek to avoid actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest – I don’t think that this is too much to ask.”

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