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Upper House passes bill to rein in ICAC

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State parliament is on a collision course with SA’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption after laws Ann Vanstone denounced as designed to protect politicians from scrutiny passed the Upper House unanimously last night.

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Changes to the ICAC’s governing legislation were moved by SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo and passed the Legislative Council with support from all parties, after he tabled several amendments to win over the Government.

That’s despite Vanstone yesterday telling a parliamentary committee it was “astonishing” that the Government might support the Bill.

The changes will see ICAC’s wings clipped, with the office only given jurisdiction to investigate matters of serious and systemic corruption.

Misconduct and maladministration will be restricted to the State Ombudsman, with the Office of Public Integrity moved out of the ICAC’s jurisdiction.

The laws will also establish an independent Office of the Inspector to replace the current ICAC Reviewer – with “enhanced powers of review and oversight of ICAC”.

Pangallo said in a statement that “after eight years of substantial expenditure, secret investigations, underwhelming results, controversy and criticism, changes to the way ICAC functions were needed”.

“The new changes are designed to make ICAC a more streamlined, more effective corruption-busting tool – and critically, a more accountable integrity body than it has been,” he said.

The laws still need to be ratified by the House of Assembly, but that now appears a formality.

That’s despite an angry Vanstone yesterday declaring the changes would “dismantle” her office and rob the public of an efficient integrity agency.

She was particularly critical of changes she said would shield politicians from investigation at a time when two state MPs were before the courts on charges related to ICAC inquiries.

“The first thing about this Bill, which hits one in the eye, is that the shelter for politicians that is parliamentary privilege is to be built into a 20-foot wall,” she said.

“An immediate aim seems to be to protect themselves from scrutiny.”

She was also scathing of proposed restrictions on her ability to speak publicly about investigations and said some of the changes would add considerably to the costs associated with keeping checks on corruption and maladministration.

“Let me be clear as to my position: if this or a similar Bill is passed by the parliament, it will be plain that politicians do not want an ICAC in South Australia,” she told the committee on Wednesday.

“It’s as simple as that. This bill dismantles ICAC and the whole scheme designed to govern public integrity.

“It is based on misinformation about past events, a misunderstanding of the criminal justice system and it entirely ignores the exemplary way in which ICAC has been operating in the last year.”

-with AAP

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