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Integrity agencies need major independent review: Ombudsman

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The State Ombudsman has called for an independent public review of the most powerful integrity agencies that scrutinise government, including his own office and ICAC.

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Ombudsman Wayne Lines says there should be wholesale review of the activities and funding of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC), Ombudsman SA, the Auditor-General and the Electoral Commission.

He argued the review was needed to ensure public confidence in the institutions and proper allocation of public funding.

He told Parliament’s Crime and Public Integrity Policy committee this morning that the review should be independent of Government and involve extensive consultation to discern community expectations of the agencies.

“I think this independent review should be involving consultation with the public (to answer the question) what does this state really need in order to bolster confidence in our laws, our public institutions and our government agencies?” he said.

“It’s time that we have an independent review of what all of those integrity agencies are doing – and what are their needs, what resourcing should be given, and what should their priorities be?”

Lines also questioned the “value for money” taxpayers were getting out of the ICAC – and why it was about to receive a $14.5 million funding boost.

The State Government announced this week it had held aside an extra $7 million for spending on the ICAC and would invest a further $7.5 million over four years to help the ICAC manage public hearings – one of the key policy promises of the Liberal Party at the March state election.

“ICAC’s been in place for five years and (it is) meant to be focussing on corruption,” Lines told the committee.

“Where are the big cases of organised corruption within government?

“In terms of value for money, real questions have to be asked.”

He said budgetary pressures on his office meant that important investigations were being delayed.

“I have half a dozen ICAC(-referred cases) that are currently two years old,” he said.

“It’s squeezing out other work … other issues that I’d love to be able to get my teeth into.”

ICAC and Ombudsman SA share carriage of cases of misconduct and maladministration – and the ICAC is meant only to deal with cases that are serious and systemic in nature, in addition to its anti-corruption activities.

Lines told the committee that in his experience of conducting investigations into misconduct and maladministration, there had never been a sound justification for public hearings – and he would not ask the Government for the power to hold hearings in public.

“My office has conducted a multitude of investigations into maladministration; I think we’ve done it effectively without the need for public hearings,” he said.

“Public hearings will add this extra amount of work, and infrastructure and other issues that are challenge-able, which can delay getting to the end point.”

Lines argued that public ICAC hearings into maladministration and misconduct “should be reserved for the most serious cases, of a statewide interest”.

He also argued that the ICAC Reviewer – currently former Supreme Court Judge Kevin Duggan – should have the power to investigate the ICAC’s use of the power to hold public hearings, and that witnesses should have an absolute right of appeal against decisions to hold hearings in public.

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