Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 28, 2023


Question Time

Independent Commission Against Corruption

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (14:23): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Attorney-General about ICAC.

Leave granted.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Yesterday, the report into the investigation into the ICAC investigation and subsequent prosecution of former Renewal SA chief executive John Hanlon was tabled in both houses. The 203 pages made for some disturbing reading about ICAC's reckless and unlawful conduct in trying to piece together a corruption case against Mr Hanlon and another Renewal SA executive, Ms Georgina Vasilevski.

While the inspector found that ICAC appears to have been justified in carrying out its initial inquiries, what followed from there was a litany of serious mistakes, incompetence, a degree of negligence and a lack of any proper oversight, including breaches of international law, which was deemed maladministration in public administration and failure to disclose material to the DPP.

Comprehensive as it is, the inspector's report seems to tiptoe around making any charges of misconduct or who should bear any individual responsibility for this costly failure by an integrity agency found to have operated without integrity. I cannot recall any other integrity agency in this country which has been found to have behaved this way, with a finding of maladministration against it. The inspector puts it all down to institutional failure, not the incompetence or negligence of any individuals, or as I read it: nobody is responsible for this debacle.

How can this really pass the pub test? It is my understanding that while the inspector and his team took evidence from ICAC past and present personnel, the DPP and even the Berlin consul general, his office only sought submissions from Mr Hanlon and Ms Vasilevski after their report had been completed and, while referenced, they have been largely dismissed and don't form part of the finished report. My question to the Attorney-General is:

1. Will any individual ever be held accountable for this fiasco, and what does he intend doing about it, when you consider that if a finding of maladministration was made against any other government agency or even a government minister, heads would roll and resignations would be demanded?

2. Does he have confidence in the current ICAC commissioner, who has deflected this matter as one occurring before her appointment even though she was in the job for two years leading up to the failed prosecutions, and while talking up the exceptional quality of her staff, which would have included her chief investigators at the centre of this investigation?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:26): I thank the honourable member for his questions. Yes, at over 203 pages, there is a lot to take in in this report. I have obviously had an initial read of the report and will be looking at it further. I want to make it clear I first received a copy when it was tabled in the parliament in this chamber. I didn't have any pre-warning of what the recommendations were, what the report would contain or indeed a copy of the report before others in this parliament were given that ability.

There were a number of recommendations, I think four in particular, that have been made in relation to the ICAC and how it conducts what it does. I think it's at about paragraph 734, from memory, the inspector finds that maladministration occurred in the way that the investigation—and particularly the investigation of the trip to Germany—was conducted. That is quite a serious finding and I think one of the reasons we have seen this happen in this case is because of the oversight that our integrity body has, which I suspect is a greater level of oversight than other similar integrity bodies around Australia.

I thank Inspector Strickland for what is an exceptionally thorough report. I was in no way involved in the report and, as I said, I learned of its contents at the same time as everyone else in this parliament learned of its contents. I think it has been a very worthwhile process that has been gone through. I do note that steps have been taken since the investigation started. I note that in the report, I think it's paragraph 679, it is noted that Commissioner Vanstone has written to the inspector detailing changes that have been made since November 2022.

Those improvements have involved undertaking an extensive review of investigations which has informed a number of changes including the drafting of an operations policy, an investigations manual, disclosure procedures, and a legal officer who is assigned to each investigation conducted by the ICAC with functions including proactive identification of any legal issues or risks in the proposed investigation.

In addition, steps that have been taken by ICAC are detailed in paragraph 683. There is a section in the investigation manual dealing with obtaining information from other jurisdictions, which of course is dealt with very substantially in the report. Paragraphs 689 to 695 outline operations policy and disclosure policy including the ongoing nature of the duty of disclosure. In paragraph 732, the inspector determined these measures amounted to significant steps to remedy defects in process in ICAC since the charges against Mr Hanlon were withdrawn.

I note that also in the report the inspector accepted, I think in paragraph 736, that the evidence of maladministration could not be attributed to current Commissioner Vanstone, nor could it be contributed to any one officer; it is institutional. The inspector did not find that the conduct of any specific ICAC officer warrants referral to SAPOL or to another law enforcement agency for further investigation or prosecution.

Certainly, it is a report that I think is very valuable and has already, as I have outlined in those paragraphs in the inspector's report, and I'm sure will continue to, lead to improvement.