Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 21, 2024


Independent Commission Against Corruption

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (15:46): I will start with some breaking news. The ICAC inspector, Phillip Strickland SC, has informed the Governor that he is stepping down from 30 April after delivering another report from complaints about ICAC investigations and a referral from the Attorney-General. I anticipate another snow job, like the Hanlon review, in which I pointed to glaring errors, including a section of the ICAC Act that no longer exists, to come to his conclusion that no singular person was to blame for ICAC's incompetent investigation but that it was institutional failure.

I have also asked the Attorney-General for documents from footnotes in that report, but have got nothing. However, there has been no proper legal critique of his report, that is, until Mr Strickland received a deconstruction from 83-year-old retired barrister Michael Fuller. He is no fool and is exceptionally skilled and well versed in law. His action has exposed the inspector's glass jaw, but in doing so appears to have impacted on Mr Fuller's own complaint to the inspector after a referral by the Attorney-General concerning the Lawton fraud imbroglio, regarded by the ICAC harms committee so serious as to warrant an independent judicial inquiry. That has not happened.

Mr Fuller's complaint has been acknowledged as a relevant complaint under the ICAC Act. Sadly, and for reasons that are demonstrably improper, Mr Fuller has been completely shut out of participation in the process of review of his complaint. This follows a trail of correspondence between Mr Fuller and the inspector and his deputy, Mr Plummer, in which he questions their fitness to continue in office, considering the Hanlon review and their refusal to meet with him about his complaint, along with legitimate questions about whether the process has followed what the act demands in his own complaint.

The communications speak eloquently to the questions asked. They are forthright, yet not offensive nor threatening. However, the inspector did not see it that way and has taken offence. Mr Fuller's latest response to the inspector is an easy read. A layperson can follow and understand his Hanlon deconstruction.

All that is required is to be able to read Mr Fuller's recital of section 5(4) of the ICAC Act and its equivalent, section 4(2) of the Ombudsman's Act, and compare with the inspector's finding in his report of evidence of so-called institutionalised maladministration, to know as a matter of simple logic that Mr Fuller is right when he describes the Hanlon report as 'a vacuous, expensive waste of taxpayers' money'.

Anybody who reads his summary will be immediately convinced that something just does not sit right here—there is an awful whiff of scandal. You might ask how can this possibly be with a gun Sydney SC and local lawyer with experience as a government solicitor and adviser? How is it that this first exercise of function can end up as a legal nullity? These are questions deserving of answers from the Attorney-General in the public interest.

Mr Fuller is entirely comfortable that his deconstruction of the Hanlon report will stand scrutiny by any competent lawyer in the land. He has, without fear of consequence, put his legal forensic skill on the table for all to see and to judge. Let us see if someone independent is prepared to take up that challenge. The inspector rejects Mr Fuller's assertions and his interpretation of those crucial sections of the act that were repealed in 2021 and transferred to the Ombudsman Act—typical legal argy-bargy between the egos of the key actors.

In response to a letter from the inspector and his deputy dated 1 February 2024, Mr Fuller deals with the inspector's refusal to engage with him as a denial of natural justice and procedural fairness, calling for him and Mr Plummer to resign. In a response from the inspector's office dated 14 February, Mr Fuller's comments were noted and that the inspector had already informed the Governor of his resignation for reasons entirely unconnected with his demand.

I understand that Mr Lawton, who is now in extremely frail health in hospital, has also declined to engage with the inspector because he does not believe it will achieve anything in the fraud matter. He simply wants the government to act on the recommendation made by the harms committee for an independent judicial review of his case.

That is my contribution today. I now seek leave to table all the documents and emails I have referred to.

Leave granted.