New South Wales premier Mike Baird plans to introduce new laws to protect the powers and findings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) after the High Court of Australia’s recent findings on the definition of corruption.
Last month, the nation’s highest legal body ruled that ICAC did not have the power to investigate NSW crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen because the allegations against her fell outside the corruption watchdog’s jurisdiction.
The decision had the potential to see a number of earlier ICAC findings overturned and a week after the decision, the ICAC announced it would not fight a NSW Court of Appeal application to overturn corrupt conduct findings against Travers Duncan, John McGuigan, Richard Poole and John Atkinson, as part of an investigation into Bylong Valley coal exploration licenses as it looked at the role played by former ALP powerbroker Eddie Obeid.
The premier’s move appears to ensure that the original finding against the four businessmen will stand.
Baird, who replaced Barry O’Farrell as premier when he resigned for failing to remember a $3000 bottle of wine during testimony to the ICAC, said it was important that the watchdog retained its full powers to investigate wrongdoing.
“All previous findings of corruption by ICAC should, and will, stand — and we will introduce a Bill to that effect immediately,” he said.
“While the High Court’s recent decision raises important questions about the ICAC’s jurisdiction for the future, it should not provide those who have done the wrong thing in the past with a loophole.”
An independent panel, chaired by the former High Court chief justice Murray Gleeson, and including barrister Bruce McClintock, who reviewed the ICAC Act in 2005, will look at the High Court decision and make recommendations on scope for the watchdog’s future powers.
Baird said it would be up to the ICAC to decide whether to proceed with existing investigations or to delay them until the review is completed.