PRIVATE MEMBERS BILL: ICAC
July 5th, 2017
On the 5th of July 2017, Mark spoke to and supported the Private Members Bill - Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (Serious or Systemic Misconduct or Maladministration) Amendment Bill 2017.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I wish to speak briefly to put on the record some observations and a position around this bill, which is going to be, as I understand it, put to a vote today. I will at the outset say that I have spoken at some length to the Premier and the Deputy Premier about their concerns over this legislation.
The minister, in his contribution just now, has pretty much outlined the concerns that the Premier and the Deputy Premier raised with me: issues in relation to the potential unfair smearing of diligent, hardworking officials in a media circus where the damage, regardless of the outcome, might not be undone. Let me say at the outset, I absolutely get the concerns of the government. These are serious issues, and we need to be mindful of how we amend this legislation if we are going to depart from the current provision, which is that these maladministration hearings are heard in private.
But on the other hand, there is a huge amount of public concern about some of the recent situations that go to the ability of the government to conduct its affairs appropriately and properly. The Oakden situation I think is perhaps one of the water-cooler moments in this state. People are asking: how is it that a state-owned facility could have been managed so badly? How could so many people have been abused for so long? With such a large number of public servants, public doctors and public nurses—all manner of publicly employed people—who had interactions with that facility, who went onto the site and saw what was going on, how is it that nothing happened?
Clearly, something has gone wrong. I think that Oakden is a line in the sand in a way because it is something that everyone can relate to. You can imagine your grandparent there, or your parent, some other relative or a friend there. You can think with horror about what they might be putting up with when visitors have gone and only the residents and the people administering the facility are there. I think that has focused people's minds on how inquiries are undertaken when things go wrong in government enterprises.
Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander himself has asked for the ability to decide whether these hearings should be held in public or in private. I understand that he may have changed his mind over the period since the act was first introduced. I have not spoken to him about it, but it has been put to me that he was quite happy with the secrecy provisions, for want of a better word—the hearings in private. He was quite happy with those when he started his tenure, but he has now asked for this additional power, and I think we have to take that request very seriously.
The government scenario, as the minister outlined, is one of potential reputational damage, guilt by association and media frenzy. It is easy to look at that situation and see the victim as a very junior public servant who is not paid very much and is somehow being tainted, but the other side of the coin is we are talking about ministers of the Crown. We are talking about the CEOs of departments with responsibilities for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of staff. I think there is a public interest in ensuring that their administration is properly scrutinised, and that lends weight to the call for public hearings.
Given that we are being asked to vote on this today, the Greens are going to trust that the commissioner will exercise the powers to be given to him by this bill appropriately and that measures will be put in place to ensure that hearings are conducted properly and fairly. Whilst the original model was one that the Greens did support, Oakden has been a bit of a wake-up call, I think for all of us, and given that the commissioner has asked for this power, I think we should trust that the commissioner knows what he is doing. He knows what is required for the public to be confident in the administration of the government of South Australia and its various enterprises, so the Greens will be supporting the legislation.
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