“Since the last election the Labor-Greens government has been using every possible tactic they could find to delay the onset of the Integrity Commission,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.
VOTERS have been deliberately kept in the dark regarding the extent of corruption that may have sullied the ACT government.
The Labor-Greens government has deployed a series of tactics to ensure any issues of concern were not reported before the coming election.
Timing has been critical.
From shortly after the 2016 election, this column encouraged the government to get on with the establishment of an anti-corruption watchdog and to ensure it had “real teeth”.
The government had different ideas. It is now apparent that the intention was always that there would be no reports or findings before the election in the third week in October, 2020.
Canberrans going to the polling place will now have to take into account suspicion of corruption in considering their vote without having any real evidence upon which to make their decisions.
There are basically three tactics available for politicians to deal with issues. They can support. They can oppose. They can delay. Since the last election the Labor-Greens government has been using every possible tactic they could find to delay the onset of the Integrity Commission. There was no choice to oppose. Every party and independent going into the last election supported some form of anti-corruption commission.
Step one in delaying was to get agreement from across the political spectrum. This would surely take time. An Assembly committee was established with Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury in the chair.
The report was tabled more than a year after the election. It was a thorough 300-page report carrying nearly eighty recommendations. The report not only identified the need for such an “Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission” but also examined in detail how it should deal with corruption.
With such an extensive report the government could feel justified in taking time to examine the report and its recommendations in detail, consult further and then prepare legislation.
At the time I wrote: “The committee report has set the ground rules. It is now time for the recommendations to be turned into laws and to comply with the committee’s generous timeframe for establishment by the end of 2018.”
However, the report also provided an excellent tool for further delay. The committee was not satisfied that the government would draw up legislation in complete compliance with the report. It was explicit, therefore, in demanding that the legislation itself be the subject matter of yet another Assembly committee.
Even the title of the anti-corruption body was changed to soften the impact for the general public. Starting as the Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission, the enabling legislation established the ACT Integrity Commission.
The Labor government played another politically clever card in nominating former Supreme Court justice Terry Higgins for the job as the first commissioner.
The well-respected judge had long been involved with Labor. As such they may have expected the advantage of ensuring that the commissioner was not automatically antagonistic. However, the more important advantage of the nomination became clear when there were objections. Even more time was lost for the process to deal with the objections and then to continue the search.
With the appointment of a former Federal Court judge, Hon Justice Dennis Cowdroy AO QC, as commissioner it appeared that the Integrity Commission was finally under way.
His commencement date was the first day of July, 2019. However, there was no office, no website, no staff and no processes in place. All of these required negotiation and cost money and time.
Five months later came the appointment of Mr John Hoitink as the Commission’s chief executive officer with responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the commission and advising the commission about operational and financial matters. Further staff were appointed and systems put in place to accept complaints and to facilitate mandatory reporting.
Around 100 complaints have been received by the Integrity Commission. Sorting through them and then investigating thoroughly takes time. Timing is a critical political issue that the government has played in their own interest. The interests of voters have been left for another day, another election.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.