Joint Standing Committee on the Corruption and Crime Commission — Eleventh Report —
"Parliamentary Inspector’s Report on ‘a Saga of Persistence’”
Resumed from 27 June.
HON ALISON XAMON: I move —
That the report be noted.
I rise because I would like to draw members’ attention to the eleventh report of the Joint Standing Committee on the Corruption and Crime Commission titled “Parliamentary Inspector’s Report on ‘a Saga of Persistence’”. This is quite a pertinent report to be read at this time and I would encourage members to take particular interest in this report. The report from the Parliamentary Inspector of the Corruption and Crime Commission was received by Parliament in May this year. The report outlines some of the roles of the parliamentary inspector in the oversight of the Corruption and Crime Commission as legislated under the Corruption, Crime and Misconduct Act 2003, and some of the challenges that the parliamentary inspector has faced in trying to ensure that he is best able to undertake the oversight of the Corruption and Crime Commission.
We need to remember that the Corruption and Crime Commission is a body that we have entrusted with extraordinary powers. That includes the power to bypass the rule of law, and the power to subject even innocent people to extraordinary levels of investigation and intrusion into their personal lives. The reason that it was first envisaged the Corruption and Crime Commission should be given such extraordinary powers is that Parliament recognised the need to investigate organised crime. The amount of high-level drug trafficking that is undertaken by organised crime groups is a serious issue in this state that we want to see investigated. Earlier this year, Parliament passed legislation to give the Corruption and Crime Commission additional extraordinary powers to investigate unexplained wealth. It was recognised that those are the types of issues on which we would expect the CCC to focus. I note that we are yet to see any reports from the CCC about its investigation into high-level organised crime. I certainly hope that is where the CCC is putting its extraordinary powers and resources, and time and energy. That is why the Parliament established the CCC in the first place. Therefore, we would expect that that sort of issue would be the primary focus of the CCC.
Another reason that Parliament established the CCC is that it desired an oversight body that would investigate systemic concerns around police corruption. We know that most of our police officers are extraordinarily diligent. It must be awful for them that a few bad apples abuse the powers that they are entrusted with, for either personal gain, or simply because they are not particularly nice people. Parliament therefore recognised that we need to have an oversight body that would look at the extraordinary powers that are given to our police officers. At this point, I stress my disappointment at the failure of the CCC to investigate a number of matters that pertain to police corruption. I have spoken at length in this place about the Cunningham and Atoms matter. The CCC failed, despite the extraordinary powers that it has been entrusted with by this Parliament, to follow through—inexplicably— with its investigation of the police corruption in that case. I say that knowing that our court system has also determined that police corruption did occur. I say that despite the fact that the CCC is also well resourced. We know that the Commissioner of the Corruption and Crime Commission is on a salary of about half a million dollars a year. That is a lot of money to entrust in someone. I am disappointed that we are yet to see anything from the CCC on its investigations into organised crime. I am also disappointed about the CCC’s ongoing failure to investigate police corruption. The CCC is obviously busy dealing with other matters.
One issue that has come out in the report and that the parliamentary inspector draws to our attention is the unintended consequences of the amendments that were made to the Corruption and Crime Commission Act by the Parliament in 2014. Those amendments remove the function of the CCC to investigate simple misconduct matters, recognising that that function is better placed within the Public Sector Commission. It would obviously be absurd if a body such as the CCC, with the extraordinary powers and resources available to it, was wasting taxpayer money and time by investigating minor matters. It would probably be of deep concern if the CCC were to investigate a minor matter such as a person who had a dispute with the Australian Taxation Office about the treatment of allowances. That is obviously not the sort of issue that should raise the attention of the CCC, and it would clearly be a ludicrous overstretch of its powers. Therefore, in 2014, Parliament removed the focus of the CCC from dealing with simple misconduct matters and ensured that the focus would continue to be on serious misconduct, and corruption, which is what was always envisaged these extraordinary powers would be used for.
In this report, the parliamentary inspector has brought to our attention the fact that the change that was made in 2014 has had the effect of chilling the capacity of the parliamentary inspector. The Parliamentary Inspector of the Corruption and Crime Commission is the only statutory authority who can truly oversee and investigate the way in which the CCC uses its extraordinary powers to investigate the actions of the CCC staff themselves. I think all members would agree that the staff of a body such as the CCC, which has such extraordinary powers at its disposal, and which is supposedly dealing with very high level crime, should be of the highest possible calibre and integrity. Therefore, it is concerning to note that the parliamentary inspector in his report has outlined a scenario in which his efforts to address issues of misconduct and potential criminality by a staff member of the CCC were frustrated by the CCC itself.
Members, I am very concerned about this. It is clearly articulated in the report that this was never contemplated by the Parliament. That is evident from the perusal of the second reading speeches back in 2014. Parliament did not anticipate that this would be the outcome of the sensible changes that were made in 2014 to remove misconduct matters from the CCC as an entity and ensure that those matters were dealt with, rightly, by an entity such as the Public Sector Commission. I would also like to say that I applaud the parliamentary inspector for making a point in this report to not name the staff member of the Corruption and Crime Commission of whom the concerns arose. I say that because, although I think that the parliamentary inspector should have full capacity to investigate, and I am concerned that the parliamentary inspector’s efforts to do so were frustrated, nevertheless, it was good, sound practice by the parliamentary inspector to withhold the name of the staff member of concern.
The DEPUTY CHAIR (Hon Martin Aldridge): Hon Alison Xamon.
Hon ALISON XAMON: In fact, I would suggest that we should always be very concerned if those people with whom we entrust particular powers—such as those in the CCC or the parliamentary inspector, in this regard— choose to throw people’s names around and cast aspersions on them when they have not necessarily been through any process of being able to clear their name or even been able to determine whether wrongdoing has indeed occurred. “A saga of persistence”—my goodness, I am concerned about the necessity for the title of this report— really shows how difficult the parliamentary inspector’s role was made by the CCC. I am concerned about the CCC, which basically thwarted the capacity for the parliamentary inspector to follow up allegations of potential criminality by a staff member of the CCC because it began its own internal processes dealing with industrial matters. At that point, it made it clear that according to the act, the parliamentary inspector no longer had any capacity to look into this issue or investigate. I am very concerned about this. I am concerned that there is clearly a flaw in the act, and this issue absolutely warrants further investigation. By comparison, the parliamentary inspector outlined another part of the act in which oversight was facilitated, and he made the comparison between the second scenario and the frustrations of the first scenario. In the second scenario he outlined how there is the ability to continue to investigate whether someone who had worked within police and subsequently worked at the CCC has undertaken any wrongdoing. The parliamentary inspector made the direct comparison between the powers that have been imbued with the parliamentary inspector in that instance, but are denied the parliamentary inspector in the other.
We should be concerned and we need to feel very confident that everyone who is working at the CCC is of the highest calibre. We need to ensure that the only statutory entity that can truly oversight the use of those extraordinary powers is not in any way thwarted in his capacity to do that. But we have an issue with the act whereby, unfortunately, that is exactly what has occurred. I draw members’ attention to some of the assessments and recommendations that have come from the parliamentary inspector. He notes, for our edification, that this is not the first time that this issue has arisen for him. I quote —
I commence this section of my report by referring the Committee again to my report dated 11 December 2018 titled, ‘Misconduct Alleged by Public Officers who subsequently become Officers of the Corruption and Crime Commission’. That report was concerned with a different difficulty and hiatus in relation to my incapacity to deal with misconduct alleged against public officers who later became Commission officers, in respect of which, as the Act is currently framed, there is no capacity for me to deal with the misconduct, even though it may have escaped notice or been unsatisfactorily dealt with by the Commission or other agency.
I repeat the recommendations there made, which were not intended to be expressed in terms which Parliamentary Counsel might consider to be appropriate statutory drafting, but which might provide a remedy for an hiatus in the legislative scheme in relation to circumstances of alleged misconduct of a kind not unlike those the subject of the report.
He goes on to explain his frustrations at being able to best undertake the job. In response to this report, the CCC indicated that it notes the parliamentary inspector’s concerns about the deficiencies in the act and will take that into account when it subsequently puts forward—apparently—to the government a whole range of suggested changes to the Corruption, Crime and Misconduct Act 2003. The CCC’s response to our independent statutory officer, who has defined quite concerning deficiencies in our act in his capacity to oversight the CCC, has been to say, “That’s okay; we’ll take it on board and talk to the government about the sorts of changes we want to see in any future act.” I have to say that I am really concerned about that. I am really uncomfortable with the idea that the very agency that we have entrusted with these extraordinary powers has basically seen fit to effectively shoosh off our parliamentary inspector and say, “Don’t worry; we’ll deal with it.”
Consideration of report adjourned, pursuant to standing orders.
Progress reported and leave granted to sit again, pursuant to standing orders.