By Paul Hemsley
The Parliament of New South Wales has given its blessing to the appointment of Supreme Court Judge the Hon Megan Latham as the next Commissioner of the state’s public sector watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
The state Parliament’s Committee on the ICAC confirmed Justice Latham’s appointment for a five year term commencing on 28th January 2014.
Justice Latham will replace the Hon David Ipp AO QC, who has held the position since his appointment in November 2009 and whose term was due to expire in November 2014.
However Commissioner Ipp revealed in October 2013 that he was stepping down due a back condition that makes it difficult for him to sit for long periods, an issue which he said ultimately hindered his ability to do the job.
The announcement of forthcoming changes at the top of ICAC come at a busy time for the corruption fighting agency as it continues to probe the dealings of former state Labor ministers, including Eddie Obeid, that have laid bare a raft of corrupt conduct.
The announcement of Justice Latham’s appointment to the role of ICAC Commissioner also coincides with one of the ICAC’s highest profile investigations yet in the form of Operations Cyrus, Meeka and Cabot.
The ICAC initiated these Operations to investigate whether Mr Obeid misused his position as an MP to the financial benefit of himself and his family.
During his time at the top of ICAC, Commissioner Ipp’s anti-corruption activities and investigations have come to be regarded as among of the most thorough and effective yet seen in Australia.
Although the activities of the former Labor government Ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald have largely dominated the headlines, the ICAC has at the same time been actively chasing down corruption in the local government sector through a combination of investigations and education outreach.
A year ago a probe codenamed Operation Jarek found that 22 current or previous eployees of 14 local councils participated in corrupt conduct that included accepting “holidays, TV sets, camcorders, DVD players, iPads, iPhones, coats and gift vouchers” as inducements to win or maintain business.
For many involved in maintaining the probity and good governance of government dealings, the state’s local government sector remains a significant and constant challenge because of the high number of elected representatives drawn from diverse walks of life.
As Commissioner Ipp prepares to hand over the baton, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell is clearly keen to keep the momentum of activity going through a smooth and timely transition.
The Premier welcomed the ICAC Committee’s “swift approval” of Justice Latham’s appointment, saying that it reflected the government’s commitment to “strong public watchdogs, integrity and accountability”.
“The NSW Government has provided record funding for ICAC and strengthened its powers to ensure it can do its job without fear or favour,” Mr O’Farrell said.
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