NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has said he is proud of the state’s corruption watchdog which “has teeth” and ensures politicians are “held to account” – as he refuses to say whether it has interviewed him over the scandal that felled Gladys Berejiklian.
In a speech Perrottet’s office earlier provided to The Sydney Morning Herald, which it says is to be delivered today, the Premier has lavished praise on the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Perrottet says the ICAC can “make life politically challenging” but the Liberal Party’s priority is “safeguarding the public trust”, the paper reports.
“But regardless of which party is in power – regardless of whether the transgressions are major or minor – the ICAC does its work and politicians and public servants are held to account,” the Perrottet speech reportedly says.
In the speech Perrottet reportedly says ICAC has “real teeth, and real powers to root out corruption in public service” and that he “has a sense of pride” in the “state that sets the benchmark for integrity protection”.
“Regardless of which party is in power – regardless of whether the transgressions are major or minor – the ICAC does its work” – Dominic Perrottet
The statements are in stark contrast to Perrottet’s position in October last year, when, weeks after Berejkilian resigned over the ICAC’s Operation Keppel, the NSW Premier said he would reform “weaknesses” in ICAC.
As reported last week, Perrottet and the ICAC are refusing to say whether ICAC has interviewed or sought evidence from Perrottet.
That’s despite revelations it was Perrottet who personally signed off on the $5.5m grant at the heart of the scandal – and that his doing so was illegal.
The ICAC has said Operation Keppel is focused on the $5.5m grant, to the Australian Clay Targets Association in Wagga Wagga, NSW, and on funding proposals connected to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, also in Wagga.
As previously revealed, the grant, a new club house and 1000-person “convention centre”, was illegal because it did not meet the legislative requirements of the Restart NSW Fund Act.
Perrottet, as NSW Treasurer, signed off on the grant on August 27, 2017.
Perrottet has not appeared at any of Operation Keppel’s public inquiries and the ICAC has not published any transcripts of any interviews held with him, if they exist.
“Perrottet has not appeared at any of Operation Keppel’s public inquiries and the ICAC has not published any transcripts of any interviews held with him”
Both Perrottet and the NSW ICAC are refusing to say whether Perrottet has given evidence to the ICAC in private – or even whether Perrottet has been approached by the corruption regulator.
“The Commission does not comment on investigative matters,” ICAC spokeswoman Nicole Thomas told The Klaxon.
Perrottet’s office has repeatedly refused to comment.
The Klaxon’s story last week. Source: The Klaxon
The refusals underscore concerns raised by governance and corruption experts over Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s push to implement a watered-down federal integrity body.
After campaigning on “transparency” and on delivering a federal integrity commission “with teeth” ahead of the May Federal Election, the Albanese Government is now pushing for a model that would only hold public hearings in “exceptional circumstances”.
That means it would almost certainly hold fewer public hearings – and be less transparent – than NSW’s ICAC.
The ICAC says over 40 per cent of its hearings are held in public.
As reported last week, Perrottet has also refused to respond to parliamentary questions over his ties to the gun club scandal.
Penny Sharpe, Leader of the Opposition in the NSW upper house, put four direct questions to Perrottet, including whether his $5.5m grant was legal – and if so how.
After the maximum 28 day timeframe, the NSW Premier refused to answer them.
“The refusals underscore concerns raised by corruption experts of a watered-down federal integrity body”
The Sydney Morning Herald reports Perrottet’s speech is to be given in Sydney today to the Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference, a three-day event hosted by the Federal Government and state anti-corruption bodies.
The three key “hosts” of the conference are the Federal Government’s Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity; the NSW ICAC; and the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) which “provides oversight of the NSW Police Force and NSW Crime Commission”.
It is “Australia’s premier corruption prevention forum”, its website says.
Federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus delivered an address to the conference earlier today.
Unlike Dreyfus, Perrottet’s name does not appear on the official conference program.
On October 10 last year Perrottet was quoted in a page-one story in The Australian newspaper that said he planned to “reform ICAC’s weaknesses”.
“NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says he is open to reforms that would improve ‘weaknesses’ in the NSW corruption watchdog following its chequered history go naming and shaming public figures who later turn out to be innocent,” the article states.
At the time we approached Perrottet’s office to confirm the Perrottet’s stance regarding the ICAC.
Perrottet’s office told us the Premier’s stance was accurately reflected in The Australian article, and directed us to it (on left below).
As previously reported, chair of independent think-tank the Centre for Public Integrity, former NSW Court of Appeal Judge Anthony Whealey, has said claims that ICAC is a “star chamber” that unfairly damaged political reputations were “quite wrong”.
The claims were not supported by the evidence and “basically a massive trove of misinformation”.
“When it’s advocated in the media, as it is quite often, I think it almost amounts to a deliberate campaign to mislead people,” Whealey said.
“When it’s advocated in the media…I think it almost amounts to a deliberate campaign to mislead people” – Judge Anthony Whealey
Perrottet’s speech today reportedly quotes from a speech Liberal Premier Nick Greiner, who created the ICAC in 1988, the SMH reports.
“Nothing is more destructive of democracy than a situation where people lack confidence in those administrators that stand in a position of public trust’,” Greiner said in his parliamentary speech.
“Despite members of my own party – and Nick Greiner himself – having been the subject of ICAC inquiries, and despite personally having had to deal with the inevitable political pain that has arisen from ICAC’s work, even in recent years, that’s the price of a system with strong safeguards,” Perrottet reportedly says in his speech today.
The NSW state election, in which government integrity it tipped to play a key role, is on March 25.
Coming soon: Perrottet’s office distributing misleading claims around Operation Keppel
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