09 December 2007

Another voice in support of anti-corruption commissions

In The Weekend Australian Peter Beattie the former Premier of Queensland has come out urging each state which doesn't yet have one to establish a crime and misconduct commission.

The Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission caused me, as premier, enormous political pain and, more than any other organisation, put my government at risk on several occasions. CMC investigations or inquiries caused me to lose a deputy premier and two members of state parliament, while one former minister went to jail, another is facing court and a couple of other ministers lost their portfolios. Since its inception in 1990, this standing royal commission has pursued crooked police officers, dishonest politicians and public officials.


The CMC emerged from the Fitzgerald inquiry into corruption in Queensland which ran between 1987 and 1989. In May 1987 the then Queensland National Party government headed by Joh Bjelke-Petersen was forced by public and media pressure to set up a commission of inquiry into possible misconduct and illegal activities by police.


Without the Fitzgerald report, this independent, standing royal commission would never have been created. Unlike politicians, commissioner Tony Fitzgerald QC did not depend on favourable media coverage for re-election, and the inquiry's public hearings and subsequent recommendations changed Queensland forever. Cleverly, he recommended that this independent watchdog be accountable, through an all-party committee, to the parliament, not to the executive government.

This safeguards the commission's independence. The executive is responsible only for the commission's budget, but this too is carefully watched by the estimates committee process and the parliament through the committee.

So, why am I consistently on the public record as one of the CMC's strongest supporters, and why did I, as premier, refer many of the matters to the CMC that subsequently caused me such pain? The answer is simple. Queensland needed, and indeed all states need, a watchdog beyond government control to maintain honesty and integrity in public administration.

NSW and Western Australia have similar powerful watchdogs. Even though in Queensland the CMC came about only as a result of the Fitzgerald inquiry, eventually other states, such as Victoria, will have to follow suit.

For politicians, these independent bodies are a political nightmare, but for public administration they act like a truth serum.

History has shown that a cosy link between politicians and corrupt police leads to corruption. Police power needs checks and balances. Internal police processes are not enough. There has to be external review, with the protection of the parliament.

More to the point, the public must be empowered to take allegations to an independent body to have their concerns fairly and properly investigated without the dead hand of political intervention from executive government to protect politicians, police or local government from the consequences of their misdeeds.

Here in South Australia Mr Rann and his government have consistently pooh-poohed the suggestion that we need a CMC or something like it. They believe that a combination of the Auditor- General and the police are sufficient to ensure to manage the kind of risks Mr Beattie outlines.

It must be said that there's not a lot of public interest in the matter, and the media attention has been limited: in July an editorial in The Advertiser/Adelaide Now supported the idea, but since then the paper/website have, as far as I can tell, been silent apart from publishing a couple of reader-generated comments on other stories.

If you want an example of a matter which a CMC could investigate here look at this . Unfortunately the Independent Weekly's website doesn't have the full story which it printed in last week's issue but if you read what's there you should be able to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Update later 9 December

The Sunday Age
refers to the story (which it describes as emanating from "a weekend newspaper"), and adds a terse comment :

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu and the Victoria Police Association have now called for a commission. Premier John Brumby refused to comment yesterday, but last month described a commission as a "waste of taxpayers' money".

So far nothing from the News Ltd media here.

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