Saturday, November 21, 2015

Australia: The unaccountable destroyer of lives we call ICAC

When a corruption watchdog goes bad

ON the morning of May 2, 2014, Mike Gallacher, a cop who had risen to become police minister, was on stage addressing graduates of the Police academy at Goulburn.

“The community will always back the police to do the right thing,” Gallacher was saying, when his press secretary Clint McGilvray started fielding frantic text messages.

Geoffrey Watson, SC, counsel assisting ICAC, had just dropped the bombshell corruption allegation that would destroy Gallacher’s career.  Watson alleged in a question to a developer that Gallacher, 54, was the mastermind of a “corrupt scheme to make donations to the Liberal Party”.

Within hours Premier Mike Baird had demanded his resignation.

Gallacher is a man who prides himself on integrity, a former undercover cop in Internal Affairs, a working class battler who dragged himself up by his bootstraps from Mt Druitt High, and public housing in at Lethbridge Park. Now he had been accused of the one thing he had spent his life fighting.

“That C word for me is death”, he says.

“I am an ex undercover cop against corrupt police and the utterance of the word corrupt was the most devastating thing given my history in the police force.”

And so began the surreal nightmare that is now so familiar to anyone caught up with the unaccountable star chamber we call ICAC.

For 18 months Gallacher has been in limbo on the cross bench of state parliament, his salary halved, his family shell-shocked, his Liberal colleagues wary of the association.

Yet to this date ICAC has never produced any evidence to prove its incendiary claim that he is corrupt. Despite repeated attempts by Gallacher’s lawyer Arthur Moses for Watson to substantiate his allegations all the ICAC counsel has said is “we have plenty of stuff and we have sworn testimony from a reliable person.”

Gallacher appeared in the ICAC witness box for two days and Watson never produced any “stuff” linking him to a Liberal slush fund into which illegal donations from developers had been channelled.

The worst of ICAC’s allegations against Gallacher involve the presence of two property developers at a fundraising dinner at Doyle’s Circular Quay on New Year’s Eve in 2010. There were about 20 guests at the $1000 a head dinner, which made a profit of $5000, but property developers had been banned from donating money to political parties since the previous year.

Gallacher denies he has done anything underhand and is waiting for ICAC to provide the evidence against him so he can clear his name.

He can’t understand why it won’t publish its findings on Operation Spicer, the political donations inquiry. How complicated can it be? Magistrates decide more complex cases every day.

The personal toll of the long wait has been devastating.

“It has affected me very deeply because of the sheer nature of the shame, and the public humiliation.

“I would see police walking down the street and cross the road and walk on the other side because I felt I’d brought shame on the police by being named”.

Adding to his burden was his wife’s ill health. Judy was scheduled to have a nine hour operation for breast cancer on the first day Gallacher had to testify at ICAC.

His mother in law had a heart attack two weeks after Watson’s allegations. His mother collapsed at bridge and was hospitalised with high blood pressure and renal failure.

Staffers who worked for Gallacher have struggled to find jobs, even interstate, because the taint of ICAC is lethal to careers

Being named at ICAC is not a theoretical exercise. It has real and dramatic consequences, particularly for people who value their reputations.

In the last two years, ICAC has brought down a premier, a commissioner of the SES and 10 government MPs (all but Gallacher have left parliament), all without proving its allegations of corruption, or managing to muster a single prosecution.

It sidelined for more than a year Arthur Sinodinos, who had been Tony’ Abbott’s federal assistant treasurer, so that his expertise was denied to the government’s crucial first budget.

In other words ICAC has interfered with the running of democratically elected NSW and federal governments. And for what benefit?

Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, SC, as dedicated and effective a public servant as you would ever find, was targeted by ICAC over a private matter of a car accident involving her son’s girlfriend.

She and her family were dragged through the wringer until she cleared their names through expensive litigation that ended up in the High Court.

Cunneen, too, was forced to stand aside from a murder trial and twiddle her thumbs at home after ICAC cast a pall over her reputation.

Every public official or politician who has been named by ICAC has had to resign or stand aside. And yet when ICAC itself comes under fire, it is not bound by the same code of conduct.

When ICAC is humiliated in the High Court for having overreached in the Cunneen matter, or when ICAC inspector David Levine, QC, has to launch two inquiries into its conduct, and makes scathing findings about its “arrogance” and “hauter”, no gesture is made to safeguard the reputation of the institution.

Unlike ICAC’s victims, Commissioner Megan Latham has not offered to stand aside from her $689,856 a year job pending the outcome of David Levine’s inquiries.

For ICAC it is business as usual.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress.  If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where  posts  appear as well as on  the primary site.  I have reposted  the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts  HERE or HERE

No comments: