The head of the NSW anti-corruption watchdog, Megan Latham, was put on notice in June that she faced a possible adverse report due to complaints after she had likened the examination of witnesses at ICAC to “pulling the wings off butterflies”.
But when she was asked to provide a statement, Ms Latham, who heads the Independent Commission Against Corruption, provided the commission’s independent inspector, David Levine, with a description of her remarks that is at odds with the transcript.
The incident is outlined in Mr Levine’s annual report, which warns that if the anti-corruption agency is to be taken seriously it should not be perceived as arrogant. “It must not be perceived as an institution culturally projecting an almost breathtaking arrogance in relation to its own powers, in relation to the people with whom it is dealing, in relation to other institutions of governance of the state, not least the parliament to which the ICAC itself is accountable,” he says.
Mr Levine, a former Supreme Court judge, writes that his relationship with ICAC “has been characterised by what I regard as hauteur on the part of ICAC as an institution towards myself, the parliament, the media and certainly towards persons who have connection with the ICAC”.
His report shows that when he wrote to Ms Latham on June 5 about the “butterflies” speech, she told him she had not mentioned ICAC during her talk — an assertion that is at odds with the transcript that Mr Levine reproduced in his report.
Ms Latham made the assertion after Mr Levine had asked her for a statement and told her about the “potential for adverse report and recommendation” under section 57B of the ICAC Act due to the complaints he had received about the speech.
That provision covers complaints about abuse of power, impropriety, misconduct and maladministration.
Her reply, dated June 10, says: “I did not refer at all to the commission. The comments were applicable to a number of inquisitorial bodies”. The transcript of the “butterflies” speech shows that Ms Latham said: “The thing about the role of counsel assisting at ICAC is that you’re actually part of a team and there’s been a long inquiry and you’ve actually worked out what you want to get out of the witness.
“So it’s basically by the time you get there it’s just, you know, like pulling wings off butterflies.”
In her response to Mr Levine, Ms Latham said she required particulars of any alleged abuse of power, impropriety, misconduct or maladministration.
Mr Levine writes that it is regrettable that Ms Latham’s remarks will remain public and would no doubt be used by those seeking to criticise ICAC.
“At this point in time, in 2015, the matter should rest. It would be churlish of me to say anything further,” he writes.
As well as dealing with 60 new complaints, compared with 27 last year, Mr Levine was also telephoned in June by ICAC’s counsel assisting, Geoffrey Watson SC, who expressed “concern and distress about certain media reporting about him”.
Mr Levine explained to Mr Watson that “I did not have the jurisdiction to investigate journalists … The press report was concerned with what was alleged to have been an incident in Mr Watson’s chambers involving a witness and some wine,” the report says.
Mr Levine, who has two part-time staff members, said he had received some complaints that were so thorough they would require a disproportionate amount of resources.
by: CHRIS MERRITT ; The Australian October 31, 2015