South Australia creates corruption watchdog

By Paul Hemsley

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has announced that an Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) will finally be on the beat in the state by mid-2013 after enabling legislation was passed this week.

The creation of a new corruption watchdog comes after years of government opposition to the establishment of the role and puts South Australia on par with other Australian states that already have their own statutory commissions to weed out graft and abuses of power, influence and public funds.

Mr Weatherill introduced the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bill 2012 in May this year. Its passage came after the state’s Liberals in the Upper House made up their mind to support the move.

This year’s efforts to establish an ICAC had previously been threatened by a deadlock created by the Liberals, Greens and Independents. Political enthusiasm for an ICAC has ebbed and flowed.

In 2010, Liberal MP Stephen Wade introduced a bill to launch an ICAC. However the then Rann Government blocked it and sent it to the upper house where it languished.

Moves to establish an ICAC for South Australia had been resisted by the Rann government until Mr Weatherill deposed Mr Rann as Premier in October 2011.

The Liberal Opposition decided to support the Bill this time following an agreement on how the Commissioner would be appointed.

The ICAC’s legislative mandate requires  the Commissioner to identify and investigate corruption in public administration and refer accused officials to either be prosecuted or refer the case to the Police or Police Ombudsman.

Mr Weatherill said the ICAC’s creation is an historic moment for South Australia. “The money is already in the Budget, the next step is to appoint the Commissioner and I hope to do so early next year,” he said.

In states that already have an anti-corruption commission, the local government sector has provided a steady stream of work.

However the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGA) has backed the establishment of an ICAC.

The chief executive of the LGA, Wendy Campana,  said local government doesn’t have any issues with the need for thorough investigation of alleged fraud and corruption by individuals in public office, whether in state or local government and for appropriate penalties to be applied if criminal activity is unearthed.

Ms Campana said the LGA itself will be “captured by the legislation”.

According to Ms Campana, the LGA and councils have been preparing for the new arrangements by revamping and expanding their library of information and procedures for local government procurement processes.

She said the LGA is preparing a suite of resource documents to assist councils to understand the implications of the legislation.

“The Parliament has recognised the voluntary nature of Council Members and ensured that allegations are dealt with sensitively without constraining the Commissioner to make matters public if he/she believes that this is in the interest of the community.

“Our communities expect that their elected representatives and all spheres of government are accountable and if we adhere to this premise we have nothing to fear from an ICAC,” Ms Campana said.

She said the LGA looks forward to working with the Commission about guidelines and procedures and that local government has an overarching Code of Conduct for Council Members and Staff that the whole sector will be required to follow.

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