Words by Giulianna Kharoufeh
In the past year, it seems as though not a week has gone by without fresh revelations of political corruption in NSW. Since mid 2013, 11 politicians have fallen victim to various Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigations, leading to their political demise.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 (NSW) (the Act), responsible for the establishment of ICAC, defines corrupt conduct as “deliberate or intentional wrongdoing… that involves or affects a NSW public official or public sector organisation.” Corrupt conduct comes in many forms including breach of trust, fraud, election bribery and theft, and the perversion of justice.
Since 1989, there have been several high profile ICAC investigations but none more so than the recent operations, Cyrus, Meeka and Cabot. Whilst the investigations targeted corrupt former Labor Minister, Eddie OBeid, they were responsible for the resignation of NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell. O’Farrell was caught lying about a $3000 bottle of Grange whilst giving evidence at the proceedings in April.
But the past few years have also seen several other members of parliament resign, be suspended or expelled from their position, reinforcing the belief that political corruption in NSW is widespread. Marie Ficarra was accused of accepting a $5000 bribe, forcing her to step aside from the NSW Liberal Party and sit as an independent.
On a related matter, a string of Central Coast Liberal MPs, including former NSW Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher were forced to resign after an illegal slush fund named “Eight by Five” was discovered. Senator Arthur Sinodinos, a former Director of Australian Water Holdings, was also forced to step down from a Federal Ministerial position after it was found he stood to make $20 million from corrupt dealings.
Closer to home, in Macquarie University’s own electorate, ICAC recently released a report on the investigation of the former City of Ryde Mayor, Ivan Petch. The Commission found that, in a bid to discredit General Manager John Neish, Petch leaked a confidential report about Neish viewing pornography on a Council issued laptop. Four more councilors, including Petch, were also found to have strategically hidden campaign donations to avoid public scrutiny. So far, Petch has denied the allegations and intends to take the matter to the Supreme Court.
But despite this apparent flurry of activity, the past months have seen much criticism of the ICAC process. Mainly, that corruption findings by ICAC rarely result in criminal prosecution.
In late June this year, Eddie Obeid commented that there was a “one percent” chanceof him being criminally prosecuted. These taunts provoked the NSW Attorney General, Greg Smith, to announce a Parliamentary Inquiry, with the view of strengthening ICAC. The inquiry will examine s38 of the Act which prevents criminal prosecution against witnesses who have been compelled to testify at an ICAC hearing. The results of this inquiry will hopefully allow the ICAC to close the gap between the exposure of political corruption and the criminal prosecution of those responsible.