Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Independent Commission Against Corruption

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (15:32): I want to address the extraordinary rant levelled at unnamed media and unnamed parliamentarians by ICAC Commissioner Vanstone KC in her response to the inspector's review of Mr John Hanlon. She presents a perfunctory defence for the institution while admitting its mistakes in the bungled investigation and prosecution. She accepts criticisms levelled by the inspector but then takes a backhanded swipe at what she labels 'ill-informed criticisms and falsehoods' in the media and to the Select Committee on Damage, Harm or Adverse Outcomes Resulting from ICAC Investigations on 21 August, where I asked almost all the questions of Inspector Philip Strickland KC.

She does not name the media outlets or name the individuals in the parliament who have conducted this false narrative. As everyone in this place would know, as does Ms Vanstone, I am the parliamentarian who has been consistently outspoken about ICAC investigations. I can only conclude that I am the prime individual she is talking about who is spreading lies and misinformation. My motivation has, and will continue to be, exposing and advocating miscarriages of justice and sometimes that leads you to the most sensitive and guarded echelons of our institutions, which may find that intrusion uncomfortable.

I make no apologies for trying to pursue truth and justice. Getting there is not easy nor perfect. Since she took office, the commissioner has attacked me publicly, in parliament, in correspondence and through committee hearings here and in Canberra. However, much of what has happened resulting in ICAC having to clean up its act would not have been possible had I not raised it in parliament.

On 10 December 2020, Commissioner Vanstone came breathing fire and brimstone to a meeting of the Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee, which I chaired. She expressed her dissatisfaction with the establishing of the other committee and said she was not afraid of examination or scrutiny. Let me quote her directly from Hansard:

I confess that I am perplexed at this initiative, absolutely perplexed. I ask myself: what is the point of this? Anyone reading the transcript of Hansard might infer that ICAC operates outside a regulatory framework and acts like cowboys and neither of those things is true in the least. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Fast forward to September 2023: the truth is that Ms Vanstone now presides over the only integrity agency in the nation to have been judged as behaving badly, unlawfully, unethically and breaching the rule of law and common law in its failure to disclose evidence. In anyone's language, particularly in the justice system with which she is so familiar, failure to disclose is a serious violation, particularly when the state must act as model litigants.

The inspector found impropriety, incompetence and negligence—an integrity agency that lacked integrity. I rest my case. However, what is still totally mystifying is that the inspector, bizarrely, deduced that all this appalling, inexplicable and inexcusable conduct and maladministration, which put at risk the reputation of the Australian and South Australian governments, was institutionalised; that no individual was to blame; not the former ICAC, Mr Lander, who apparently was unaware of the mismanagement and misconduct going on under his nose in their biggest case to date; not the officers who caused the damage; not Ms Vanstone, who had no knowledge of it even though she had been in charge for two years before the Hanlon case fell to bits in November 2022. Nobody was accountable. The mess was all the creation of the institution itself. That defies credulity.

Of course, had it been an ICAC investigation into a government department which found maladministration—like it did with Gillman and Oakden—executive heads would have rolled. We still do not know the circumstances behind the departures of ICAC head of investigations Andrew Baker and his assistant in the Hanlon debacle, Amanda Bridge.

Ms Vanstone also raises concerns about the demonising of whistleblowers, and is probably referring to the former Renewal SA workers who filed the complaint against Mr Hanlon and Ms Vasilevski. From that, do we assume all whistleblowers must be telling the truth? Demonising whistleblowers is both unfair and unhelpful and it has a chilling effect on those who want to speak up, she says. Too right—just tell that to Richard Boyle, David McBride and Julian Assange. And what about me, Madam Acting President? I consider myself a whistleblower here, and I have been demonised too.

Can I point out that Mr Hanlon's defence has yet to be heard by anyone. Only the DPP's prosecutor Carmen Matteo KC saw it, and the case collapsed. I suspect the matter is far from over. Stay tuned.