Two former politicians who have been abandoned by their parties have urged the NSW government to prevent the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption from using public hearings to destroy the reputations of innocent people.
These calls for change have been made by Jeff Salvestro-Martin, who lost Labor Party preselection for the 2013 federal election due to an ICAC public hearing, and Marie Ficarra who lost Liberal Party endorsement after appearing before ICAC in 2014.
Despite facing accusations of wrongdoing by ICAC, no charges have ever been laid against them and ICAC informed Ms Ficarra last year — long after she had lost her political career — that she would not be found corrupt.
In Mr Salvestro-Martin’s case, serious doubts have now emerged about whether ICAC properly understood the law that it had accused him of breaching.
The calls for change come soon after ICAC’s independent inspector David Levine urged the state government to abolish the commission’s public hearings and introduce an “exoneration protocol” that would permit people to clear their names when adverse findings by ICAC fail to produce convictions.
ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham has criticised both proposals.
Mr Levine’s report singles out Mr Salvestro-Martin and says his experience shows how public hearings can have a significant negative impact on the reputation, career and family life of those involved.
He had been referred to adversely by ICAC in a press release, a “fact sheet”, at public hearings and in a final report that recommended consideration should be given to charging him with breaches of the NSW election funding laws.
ICAC continues to publish that material on its website.
The report released last week by Mr Levine reproduces correspondence from the Electoral Commission that indicates ICAC and the Electoral Commission have different views on how the electoral funding laws operate.
The Electoral Commission’s assessment is in line with arguments from Mr Salvestro-Martin that were rejected by ICAC.
The correspondence, dated October 26 last year, came long after his eight-year-old daughter had been asked by her teacher after the 2013 election if she had any objection to the class discussing what had happened to her father.
“When they say ICAC has an impact on people, I don’t think the level of that impact is understood by Megan Latham,” Mr Salvestro-Martin said.
“My son said to me the other day ‘Dad, when is this ICAC stuff going to disappear off the web? Whenever I look up my name, all your stuff comes up.’
“He rightly says that this is going to impact his future. I’ve got two boys and they turn 15 in July.
“If a prospective employer types in our name, which is pretty unusual, that rubbish is going to pop up. What is missing is what David Levine has said — that there was no corruption and wrongdoing. That stuff doesn’t come up as No 1. What sits there is the salacious Sydney Morning Herald bile.”
Mr Salvestro-Martin was stripped of ALP preselection for the seat of Bennelong on July 12, 2013, one day after a report in The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that ICAC had ordered him to appear at a public hearing.
Mr Salvestro-Martin had been a Labor member of Ryde City Council and on the day he lost preselection, ICAC issued a “media alert” saying he would be questioned about undisclosed political donations in the form of advertising in a local newspaper, The Weekly Times.
Section 96E (3) of the NSW Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act says a banned indirect campaign contribution does not include anything worth less than $1000.
ICAC rejected submissions from Mr Salvestro-Martin and four other Ryde councillors that the cost of the advertising was $696.66 each, which was below the statutory limit.
ICAC believed they were liable because the aggregate cost exceeded the $1000 limit.
The letter from the Electoral Commission in Mr Levine’s report says: “Each candidate or group is not required to disclose the full cost of the advertising but rather the amount of expenditure paid by the candidate or group.
“In this scenario no candidate or group is making or accepting an indirect campaign contribution …,” the commission wrote.
Mr Salvestro-Martin has allowed his ALP membership to lapse and was “enormously disappointed” that the party had not upheld the rights of the individual that he once believed was one of its fundamental principles.
“They dropped me like the proverbial hot potato,” he said.
Chris Merritt- The Australian
(WTF used with permission)