18/03/2008 - 13:02

Bipartisan support for wider CCC powers

18/03/2008 - 13:02

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The state government has agreed to widen the powers of the Corruption and Crime Commission following a planned review, despite strong criticism of the corruption watchdog by its Parliamentary Inspector Malcolm McCusker QC.

The state government has agreed to widen the powers of the Corruption and Crime Commission following a planned review, despite strong criticism of the corruption watchdog by its Parliamentary Inspector Malcolm McCusker QC.

The CCC's expanded powers will allow it to focus on organised crime, rather than just public officers, and have been welcomed by the astate opposition.

Attorney General Jim McGinty said today the government was still seeking advice on how to resolve the impasse between the CCC and the Parliamentary Inspector.

Mr McGinty also backed the CCC's freedom to hold public hearings, despite criticism by Mr McCusker and others that it should hold more hearings in private.

The CCC review by Perth barrister Gail Archer recommended 58 changes to the relevant act.

Among the main recommendations is that the CCC be allowed to make findings against against private citizens, instead of just public officers.

The WA government has accepted all but four of the recommendations.

It opposes Ms Archer's suggestion there would be an "educative value" in allowing the CCC to make findings against people even when they had not engaged in misconduct.

In December, the CCC controversially found former minister John D'Orazio had not engaged in misconduct in relation to a Bayswater panel beater, but had acted inappropriately.

But WA Attorney General Jim McGinty today said formalising this power was not acceptable.

"One of the consequences of having a finding of inappropriate conduct made against someone in public life is that that means they fall on their sword," Mr McGinty told reporters.

"The CCC was never set up to pass judgment on the behaviour of individuals that does not constitute misconduct, so we don't support that recommendation."

Extensive hearings by the CCC last year and in 2006 exposed the influence of former premier and lobbyist Brian Burke and his business partner Julian Grill over public officials, including ministers, three who were sacked as a result.

But the CCC was not able to make any findings against Mr Burke, Mr Grill or former Liberal party senator Noel Crichton-Browne.

This prompted the recommendation to allow the CCC to make findings of misconduct and corruption by private citizens "where it had some connection to the conduct of public officers", bringing it in line with the powers of corruption bodies in NSW and Queensland.

It would also enable the watchdog to make findings against organised crime figures.

Ms Archer recommends the CCC be allowed to investigate suspected organised or serious crime, such as when the purpose of an investigation is to determine whether an offence has been committed or not.

Mr McGinty said the CCC and police would work in close cooperation, and make use of the commission's extraordinary powers to force people to appear before it.

"With organised crime, it's proved very difficult for conventional law enforcement measures to be able to deal with, including the code of silence among bikies.

"I think the CCC has been very effective in dealing with public sector misconduct, if it can be equally effective in dealing with organised crime, we'll all be the winner."

Opposition Leader Troy Buswell says the government should have expanded the CCC's crime fighting powers long ago.

The government has referred to a parliamentary committee the issue of misconduct and corruption by MPs, with Mr McGinty saying it wants a mechanism allowing the CCC to bypass parliamentary privilege in its investigations.

The committee is also due to resolve the impasse between the CCC and Mr McCusker.


Mr McGinty's full statement is pasted below:

 

The State Government will give the Corruption and Crime Commission wider organised crime powers following recommendations made by a senior barrister charged with reviewing the operation and effectiveness of Western Australia's CCC Act.

Attorney General Jim McGinty said the expanded organised crime function would enable the CCC, by agreement with the Police Commissioner, to use its extraordinary powers to tackle serious organised crime in Western Australia.

Mr McGinty said the review by Gail Archer SC would enable the Government to deal with many complex issues raised about the operation of the CCC.

"I thank Ms Archer for the diligent and consultative report she has presented," he said.

"The State Government has considered her 58 recommendations and supports all but four of them."Other key recommendations include:


- The CCC should be given the power to report opinions on people who do not work in Government.
- The CCC's powers to deal with contempt should be simplified by:

a) removing the requirement that a question must be judged as relevant (in hindsight), for failure to answer it to be regarded as contempt.

b) facilitating the procedure by which allegations of contempt can be dealt with by the Supreme Court.

- Appointing a Public Interest Monitor to provide input on applications for surveillance device warrants.

- Clarifying the ability of Director Generals to discuss CCC matters with the relevant Minister.

- In relation to Parliament and privilege:

a) Make references from Parliament to the CCC discretionary. Currently, if the Privileges Committee decides to hold an inquiry into an individual or individuals' behaviour, reference of non-serious misconduct to the CCC is mandatory. In essence, the referral mechanism allows the CCC, for the purpose of the investigation only, to go behind parliamentary privilege. It does not allow the CCC, or any other body, to go behind parliamentary privilege for the purposes of a prosecution.

b) Make the CCC referral mechanism available for all misconduct (not just non-serious misconduct). That is, extending the circumstances in which Parliament can ask the CCC to investigate without being restricted by privilege.

c) Establish a comprehensive parliamentary code of conduct - breach of which would constitute misconduct for CCC purposes.

On the issue or public and private hearings, Ms Archer recommended that the CCC should continue to have the power to hold some hearings in public, pointing out that its predecessor (the Anti-Corruption Commission) was substantially hampered because it did not have this power.

"Further, unlike in some other jurisdictions, in WA the legislative starting point is that hearings will be closed," Ms Archer said.

"Accordingly, there is no justification to amend the Act to further restrict the power of the CCC. Indeed, an argument could be made for amending the Act to widen the discretion.

"It is obvious that the exercise of the discretion will come under scrutiny from time to time and will be the subject of complaint. However, it is equally obvious that the CCC is well aware of the relevant criteria it must take into account before exercising that discretion."

Since its establishment, 22 per cent of CCC hearings have been held in public.

The four recommendations not accepted by the Government are:

- Recommendation 10. Extending the term of appointment for CCC staff from five to eight years.

- Recommendation 11. A change of policy to allow staff finishing their work with the CCC to return to the public sector at the level they reached while working for the CCC.

- Recommendation 27. The CCC be given powers equivalent to the police under the Criminal Property ConfiscationAct. The Government considers this unnecessary as the CCC can work collaboratively with the police where confiscations are appropriate.

- Recommendation 34. Confirm that the CCC can form opinions on conduct less than misconduct. The Government considers that the CCC's powers in this area were always intended to be limited to outlining opinions of misconduct and corruption. Anything less can be unnecessarily damaging to individuals.

The Government has resolved to seek advice from the Joint Standing Committee on the Corruption and Crime Commission Act in two main areas:

- As announced by the Premier last week, the mechanism, if any, to resolve any impasse between the CCC and the Parliamentary Inspector; and
- The issue of parliamentary privilege, a code of conduct for MPs, and Ms Archer's recommendation on how to handle misconduct and corruption by MPs

A working group, consisting of Government agencies will be formed to advise the government on detailed implementation of the recommendations in relation to the organised crime function.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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