For too long, NSW Premier Mike Baird has avoided taking decisive action to address the rapid decline of his state’s anti-corruption agency. He can no longer avoid his responsibilities. It’s time to act.
One way or another, ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham must go. Once that happens, Baird needs to ensure that the culture of this immensely powerful agency is aligned with that of the justice system, where the rights of the individual are respected.
If Baird believes what he says about wanting a robust anti-corruption agency, he needs to act quickly to remove the taint destroying the credibility of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
ICAC’s statutory inspector, David Levine, has accused the agency of some of the worst things that can be said about a law-enforcement organisation: it engaged in unlawful conduct, abused its powers and is affected by serious maladministration.
This is much more than a tiff between a couple of former judges. ICAC is supposed to set the standard of conduct for the state’s public sector. If Levine’s assessment is accurate, ICAC has become an example of how not to run a government agency.
It is clear Latham cannot get on with Levine’s office, which is the main mechanism for ensuring ICAC’s enormous coercive powers are exercised properly. If that mechanism were working, the community would be seeing evidence that Levine had been able to nudge Latham towards better standards. Such hopes are futile, as seen by Latham’s furious response to Levine’s report.
This is in line with Latham’s approach to ICAC’s other accountability mechanism. She has made it very clear she will not answer questions about what she considers operational matters.
This institutional breakdown and the finding of unlawful conduct should be enough to persuade Latham she has made a hash of things and needs to step down. If she stays, she is doing herself — and Baird — no favours.
Either way, Baird must now call a truly independent judicial inquiry. And because every judge in NSW would know all of the key players in this affair, he should turn to the other states for help.
An inquiry under an interstate judge or silk could lead to formal legal action against those who have abused their powers.
If Latham is still at the helm, the next step would be her removal from office after a vote in both houses of state parliament. Like ICAC’s innocent victims, her reputation would face a battering.
(WTF) Used with permission.