14/04/2020 - 15:56

McGowan to push through McKechnie nomination

14/04/2020 - 15:56

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The state government says it will circumvent the upper house committee that oversees the state’s Corruption and Crime Commission to renominate John McKechnie as its commissioner, after the committee declined to offer bipartisan support to the incumbent.

McGowan to push through McKechnie nomination
The Corruption and Crime Commission has been led by John McKechnie since 2015. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The state government says it will circumvent the upper house committee that oversees the state’s Corruption and Crime Commission to renominate John McKechnie as its commissioner, after the committee declined to offer bipartisan support to the incumbent.

That announcement follows news last week that opposition leader Liza Harvey and Premier Mark McGowan had exchanged a series of letters relating to Mr McKechnie’s appointment, with Mrs Harvey accusing Mr McGowan of politicising the issue.

In his initial letter to Mrs Harvey, Mr McGowan requested the opposition offer bipartisan support to Mr McKechnie’s renomination, as appointments to the CCC require bipartisan and majority support.

That came after Jim Chown, deputy chair of joint standing committee on the CCC, declined to offer his support.

In response, Mrs Harvey said that doing so would be improper, and that Mr McGowan should contact Mr Chown instead.

Appearing before the media this afternoon, Mr McGowan offered praise for Mr McKechnie, saying he was the most effective candidate for the job and calling his reappointment in the best interests of Western Australia.

“An independent expert panel identified him as the outstanding candidate to continue in the role," Mr McGowan said.

“I wrote to the Leader of the Opposition seeking her support to ensure the nomination of Mr McKechnie receives bipartisan and majority support.

“Unfortunately, the opposition leader has yet to provide that assistance.

“Mr McKechnie has the support of the state government and is widely accepted by the public and the legal profession as the best choice to continue to lead the CCC as it pursues several important inquiries, which began under his stewardship.

“With WA being in a state of emergency, now is not the time to be changing leaders of the state's premier integrity agency and he must be allowed to continue his important work.

“I hope all members of parliament agree that this matter needs to be dealt with expeditiously this week so Mr McKechnie can continue his important work of busting corruption.”

Mr McKechnie, who has served as CCC Commissioner since 2015, was appointed to the role by attorney general Michael Mischin under Colin Barnett, with Mr Mischin having said that finding qualified candidates to fill the position at the time had been difficult.

Attorney General John Quigley echoed that sentiment this afternoon, praising Mr McKechnie’s record leading the CCC as second to none.

“Mr McKechnie is presently leading a number of important investigations and the continuity of these would be interrupted if a new commissioner was appointed or if we found ourselves without a Commissioner to lead the agency,” Mr Quigley said.

“Mr McKechnie has led investigations into North Metropolitan Health Service procurement, the former trade commissioner to Japan Craig Peacock, the activities of the former clinical trials manager at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and the activities of Paul Whyte who has allegedly stolen government funds over a number of years.

“For the commissioner who presided over these operations to not be reappointed would be a cause for significant concern and criticism.

"Significantly, Mr McKechnie has commenced investigations into the risk of electoral allowances being misused by some Liberal parliamentarians.

"In the absence of any public argument against his reappointment, it would be open for the community to infer that politicians are vetoing Mr McKechnie to stymie his investigation of their expenses."

While Mr Chown has yet to publicly state why he does not support Mr McKechnie’s renomination, both Messrs McGowan and Quigley said his lack of a reason could be seen as related to Mr McKechnie’s investigation into former Liberal MLC Phil Edman.

Mr Edman’s misuse of his parliamentarian allowance as a member of the so-called 'black hand gang', a group of legislative council members from the Liberal Party, was detailed in a report released in December of last year.

Mr Chown was not named in the report as being a member.

Mr Quigley, who disagreed with the suggestion that the Bill to reappoint Mr McKechnie was an attempt to steamroll the parliament, said the Bill announced today would require the opposition to publicly state their reasons for opposing Mr McKechnie's renomination.

“The committees of the parliament are subservient to the parliament as a whole,” he said.

“There’s a flaw in the legislation that it requires a majority of the committee, and yet [it] is made up of just four people.

“The committee system has failed; it can’t reach a majority verdict, so it’s back to … the houses of parliament.

“It’s up to Mr Chown to … stand up in parliament and tell the public why he doesn’t want Mr McKechnie [as commissioner].

“Don’t do it behind closed doors.”

UPDATE: In a letter sent to Mr McGowan this afternoon, Mrs Harvey said she unequivocally supported Mr McKechnie's renomination as commissioner.

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