15 December 2020

Hunt on for new Integrity Commission head

| Ian Bushnell
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Dennis Cowdroy

Dennis Cowdroy will need to be replaced in the new year. Photo: File.

The hunt for a new head of the ACT Integrity Commission has begun with the appointment of a recruitment agency to identify suitable candidates and sift applications.

Legislative Assembly Speaker Joy Burch has contracted Ford Kelly Executive Connection to headhunt for someone to initially fill the role of Acting Integrity Commissioner for six months while a permanent head is also found.

The ACT’s first Integrity Commissioner, Dennis Cowdroy QC, will leave the role in the new year after less than two years in the job.

Mr Cowdroy only took up the appointment in May 2019, establishing the ACT’s first anti-corruption watchdog, which included setting up permanent offices and recruiting a CEO and staff to the Commission.

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Ford Kelly began work on 25 November and according to the contract was expected to finalise the search for an Acting Commissioner on 7 December so they could hit the ground running in the new year.

The search for a permanent Commissioner is due to start in the first week of January and a selection report finalised by the end of June.

As well as conducting the search, Ford Kelly will place government-paid advertisements; undertake referee checks, confirmation of qualifications and eligibility, and police checks; arrange for the Speaker to appoint an Appointment Advisory Panel to assess candidates and make a recommendation.

Speaker Joy Burch

Speaker Joy Burch will appoint an Acting Commissioner in the new year, and announce a permanent appointment six months later. Photo: Facebook.

Ford Kelly will support and advise the Panel in recommending a preferred candidate to the Speaker, as well as submitting a final report on the appointment process.

Under the legislation setting up the Commission, a Commissioner must have been a judge, or, if a judge cannot be found, a lawyer for 10 years.

A commissioner cannot be an MLA or former MLA, or a Federal Member of Parliament or former member, or a public servant or a member of a political party in the five years previous to the appointment.

Commission inspectors are also ineligible.

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In making an appointment, the Speaker must consult with the Chief Minister, Opposition Leader, and the leader of any other political party that has more than two members in the Assembly (currently the Greens).

Last year then Opposition Leader Alistair Coe chose to block the appointment of ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Terence Higgins as he had once been a member of the Labor Party and was considered too close to the government.

The Integrity Commission is now established in offices in Kingston and work is progressing on all complaints received.

The Commission began receiving complaints on 1 December 2019. To date, more than 100 have been submitted.

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CEO John Hoitink told Region Media in November that there remained about three full investigations and 13 preliminary investigations into “serious and systemic” corruption within the ACT Public Service.

The Commission received an extra $6.7 million in funding over the next four years in the August budget update. The funding increase had allowed the body to employ more specialist staff, and it now had about 14 full-time staff.

Sydney-based Mr Cowdroy was a justice of the Federal Court of Australia, served as an additional judge of the ACT Supreme Court, and was a Land and Environment Court judge.

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