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New changes to ICAC Bill after Lander lobbied crossbench

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ICAC Commissioner Bruce Lander has lobbied crossbench MPs against backing a Government Bill to allow public maladministration hearings, prompting independent John Darley to seek major changes to the proposed laws.

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Lander has made no secret of his frustration with the legislation currently before parliament, despite having backed an earlier version of the Bill – designed to facilitate open hearings when deemed appropriate by the Commissioner.

But Labor referred the original legislation to a review by parliament’s Crime and Public Integrity Committee, which saw new safeguards introduced for people under investigation, including the right to appeal the process to the Supreme Court – a provision Lander has slammed as creating “the illusion of public hearings”.

In correspondence to both Attorney-General Vickie Chapman and shadow A-G Kyam Maher, the Commissioner noted that “if the Bill was to pass in its present form the proposed power to conduct an investigation by way of public inquiry will, in practical terms, be largely devoid of utility and largely if not completely symbolic”.

Labor has introduced its own amendments, which Lander has also broadly rejected.

But in a rearguard action, the ICAC Commissioner has briefed crossbench MLCs from the Greens, SA Best and Darley’s Advance SA, warning them the existing Bill would likely result in no open hearings ever taking place.

Lander’s office confirmed he met with all the crossbenchers on February 26, in a briefing it’s understood was facilitated by Chapman’s office and attended by one of her advisers.

That meeting prompted Darley to introduce his own amendments, effectively rolling back the most significant changes to the Bill – including the Supreme Court appeal provision.

“His argument was that with this new Bill that’s come up it will end up like a lawyers’ picnic [so] we’re making a couple of amendments to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Darley told InDaily.

“We’re making two amendments – that he agrees with – so that he has full discretion on whether there are open hearings.”

Darley said he went through the legislation with Lander and said ‘if I delete those two clauses would that satisfy your requirements?’.

“He said, ‘absolutely, yes’, and that’s where we are,” he said.

Darley said he had also “been through the Labor amendments and we’re not happy with those in general”.

Greens MLC Mark Parnell confirmed Darley’s changes would “put the Bill back to a similar position it was in when it was first debated last year, before it was sent back to the parliamentary hearing”.

“Lander said he didn’t like the second version of the Bill and liked even less the Labor amendments to it,” he said.

“And he said that if either the Bill as drafted or the Labor amendments get through, he wouldn’t be calling any public hearings… the only way public hearings would go ahead – on his watch at least – is if the Darley amendments get up.”

The Greens are yet to formalise their position on the legislation, but Parnell said: “We supported discretionary open hearings for a limited range of cases [and] that position hasn’t changed.”

“The devil’s always in the detail,” he added.

SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros said the briefing with Lander “covered a lot of ground”.

“We ran through the amendments being proposed… he said at the end of the day he wasn’t passing any comment or judgement, he was merely giving us his viewpoint from a practical application – what this will mean in practice,” she said.

“The question has to be put to the Government and Opposition whether they’re willing to contemplate those amendments, and if they’re not we’re going to end up with no public hearings – which is absolutely not what we want.”

Asked the Government’s position on the Darley amendments, a spokeswoman for Chapman said in a statement that: “The Government has considered the recommendations of the Crime and Public Integrity Committee and resolved to introduce the ICAC No. 2 Bill, reflecting most of those recommendations, including the right to appeal to the Supreme Court.”

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