Ultimate ‘get out of jail' card? SA MPs may abolish the watchdog investigating them

If you thought there was strong resistance to a corruption watchdog in Canberra, you should take a look at what’s happening in Adelaide. 

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Not satisfied with an Independent Commissioner Against Corruption that actually has teeth, the Libs — including MPs who have been under investigation by the watchdog — are trying to dismantle it. 

Yesterday the South Australian government voted on a bill that would strip the ICAC of its powers to investigate misconduct and maladministration. This drew a blistering rebuke from ICAC commissioner Ann Vanstone QC, who told a parliamentary hearing it would shield politicians from scrutiny and ultimately allow corruption to go undetected. 

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Steven Marshall’s ‘new dawn’ struggles to usher in fresh light

If passed through the lower house, it would mean Liberal MPs currently being investigated or charged with offences as a result of an ICAC probe would be able to vote to dismantle the watchdog — an absurd conflict of interest.

What says Premier Steven Marshall? The situation was “completely acceptable”, he reportedly declared yesterday.

How did this come about? 

Video: Christian Porter under pressure over anonymous donation (Sky News Australia)

The bill introduced by SA Best’s MLC Frank Pangallo aims to establish an office of the inspector to replace the ICAC reviewer, with enhanced powers to review and oversee the ICAC.

It comes as the government deals with the fallout from a scandal triggered by an investigation by ABC journo Isabel Dayman earlier this year that revealed close to 100 examples of state government website links redirecting users through “stateliberalleader.nationbuilder.com”, a domain operated by the SA Liberal Party.

The government admitted it had been redirecting web users through the data-harvesting platform but said the redirections had “accidentally occurred” and that neither the Liberal Party nor the premier’s office had been aware.

The scheme was referred to the Office of Public Integrity (OPI) yesterday for assessment over potential issues of misconduct or maladministration.

It also comes as the widow of an SA Police chief superintendent — who took his own life during an ICAC investigation but was never accused of corruption — pushes for the anti-corruption body to be reformed.

Conflict of interest

Two SA MPs — former Liberal turned independent Troy Bell and Liberal Fraser Ellis — are facing charges following ICAC investigations, and some other country MPs remain under active investigation over expenses claims, according to the ABC

Vanstone said it was “extraordinary” that those MPs would be able to vote on a bill that would ultimately restrict ICAC’s powers.

“Where else in this state could such a conflict of interest be tolerated?” she said.

Whether or not the bill is enacted, it’s a damning indictment of where the SA Libs stand on the issue of transparency and accountability.

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