Subjects: CIC, ICAC
TOM CONNELL: I spoke with her a short time ago, I began by asking if there will be able to be a federal anti-corruption body legislated before the election.
AMANDA STOKER: I’m optimistic that there’s time for it to be done, and time for it to be done properly-
TOM CONNELL: During sitting next year though? Would it meet sitting next year, realistically?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, it may or it may not. A lot will depend upon what the Labor and Crossbench representatives have to say once they see the final version but I’m optimistic that it represents a fair balance and that there’s time to get it done.
TOM CONNELL: So, one of the issues spoken about by Labor is the fact that only federal agency or ministers can refer issues to this body. That’s the proposal we’ve got so far. Just on that limitation, so let’s say a Liberal Party staffer is being used to do Party-political work, they want to refer to CIC as a whistleblower, can they do that?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, we’ve taken on board a lot of the feedback that came from members of the community in the consultation process, and as you know was a really in-depth and lengthy process involving no less than 48 separate workshops and so, we’ve taken on a lot of that feedback and I think you’ll find in the final model, you’ve got something that represents taking on board a lot of that and an attempt to-
TOM CONNELL: Alright.
AMANDA STOKER: - again balance those concerns with the importance of the community being able to have a single, one-stop kind of place where they can-
TOM CONNELL: So, the community, so a whistleblower would have avenue to refer something?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, we are, I am going to make you wait until the formal release-
TOM CONNELL: But can I get an indication, because it’s a very narrow stream to refer - a federal agency or Minister. You seem to be indicating the community will have an avenue as well?
AMANDA STOKER: It is, I think, important that any Australian has a clear avenue they can take to refer something that is of concern to them. Now we’ve got to make sure we do that in a way that can’t be misused or weaponised against people in circumstances where it’s malicious, but I do think it’s important that there to be a pathway for any Australian to be able to access this body-
TOM CONNELL: Ok, we’ll take that as a strong hint that you’re providing. It won’t look into Ministerial Standards per se though, there is a section on integrity in the Standards. Wouldn’t this be the perfect body, this Commission, no other agency actually polices Ministerial Standards, why not this one?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, we need to be clear about what we want from this body. Do we want to make sure that people are acting within the law? Do we want to make sure that public funds are being used according to the rules? Do we want to make sure that Australians are getting what they ask for out of the people who for the moment, hold the reins? Or do we want to use it to prosecute what would sometimes be used as a partisan-political issues of the day? And so, there’s a balancing exercise in the framing of this and if we’re going to have a body that has really serious investigatory powers, and the ability to - with considerable teeth - deal with problematic, systemic, criminal kind of conduct, we don’t want to see that applied to matters that might be seen as more in the nature of discipline within a Ministerial team. Because ultimately there is a -
TOM CONNELL: -in the Ministerial Standards, is integrity, is the fact that Ministers may disclose their interests, when they’re making huge financial decisions. There’s no other body that polices this, is there? There’s no department within PM&C looking into this?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, one is Ministerial disclosures, and Ministerial Standards are promises Ministers make to the Prime Minister as a condition of their service-
TOM CONNELL: But there’s a promise, where’s the accountability?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, the accountability is to the Prime Minister and to the requirement that the things we do in the course of our job don’t bring the government into disrepute. There’s, I think, an important political accountability question there, that people in the Parliament and people in the media are well placed to do. But that’s a very different thing to matters that go to what is essentially criminal conduct. I’m not saying any of it’s good when it’s made out but there’s a different process for each.
TOM CONNELL: The Ministerial Standards, they are very important. They can have huge financial ramification. Ministers can benefit from that. But there’s no body that actually polices that. The only way we seem to hear these sorts of issues is media getting wind of it and reporting it.
AMANDA STOKER: Well-
TOM CONNELL: So is it just the media’s job to do that?
AMANDA STOKER: Let’s just step back to your premise first, I think. You know, Ministers holding the reins and having conflicts of interests that affect their ability to give contracts. Well, hold on. Ministers don’t make decisions on contracts. Ministers don’t hold the financial reins – all of that stuff is dealt with at arm’s length through departments, there is no Minister, who gets the sign off on who gets a contract-
TOM CONNELL: There’s a lot of grants, as we’ve found out, individual funding where Ministers can make decisions.
AMANDA STOKER: I think it is nothing short of a stretch to suggest that Ministers-
TOM CONNELL: Okay, why don’t we go to a specific before ICAC now. Gladys Berejiklian didn’t tell anyone about a secret relationship she was in and was then pushing a project that that person, Darryl Maguire, was also pushing in Wagga Wagga. Do you see that as an issue that’s good to have ventilation?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, I don’t think it is a good idea for somebody like me to run commentary on something that is before an integrity commission right now. It will do its job. But I guess I would just flag as a potential risk from overcooking this, is that there seems to me to be no situation where projects could be delivered before the electorate of Wagga Wagga without this problem being one that crops up in circumstances where they are in a relationship-
TOM CONNELL: Well, hang on. Isn’t this the case that in that situation Gladys Berejiklian should’ve been recused from decision-making, that’s how you do it.
AMANDA STOKER: And that’s why it’s probably not constructive for us to be working on hypotheticals that haven’t been fully flushed out-
TOM CONNELL: Well, that’s why I’m asking from what we’ve heard so far, before the hearings, you said you had no concerns about what Gladys Berejiklian had done, is that still your view from what you’ve heard so far of the testimony?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, I’m not going to run commentary on half revealed, half-cooked data.
TOM CONNELL: Is it good, though, that the voters of New South Wales are finding this out, that there was a secret relationship? The Premier and bureaucrats didn’t know about it and they thought it should have been declared. Is that good to have that transparency now?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, I think transparency is fundamentally a good principle-
TOM CONNELL: What about this circumstance?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, I’ve just told you I’m not going to run commentary on circumstances we know half of the facts about. But transparency, as a principle, is absolutely the one under which we should operate but we need to make very sure that, in our pursuit of transparency, we don’t go so far as to create perverse outcomes and there are many occasions where the powers of ICAC have been used in ways that have generated enormous unfairness, where they have destroyed reputations without compensation in circumstances where no wrongdoing has been demonstrated, and we should be very reluctant to put in place structures that could, in the pursuit of one thing that is good, also perpetrate great injustice.
TOM CONNELL: Can I just ask this one, the ICAC Act includes MPs if they suspect or know about corruption, they need to pass it on to ICAC. Would the CIC include something like that?
AMANDA STOKER: I regard that as something that presently exists where I, or other colleagues, saw something that looked like corruption, I consider it’s fundamental to our duty to the Australian people to report that-
TOM CONNELL: Sure, but I’m talking about this is within the Act. If anyone knows or suspects corruption, they would have to pass that on to the CIC.
AMANDA STOKER: Look, I’m not going to let out of the bag what’s in the Act, I know you’d like me to very much, but it’s-
TOM CONNELL: You agree with that principle though?
AMANDA STOKER: The principle that everybody, whether they are elected representatives or a member of the public service, who suspects, on reasonable grounds, that they are dealing with corruption, should report it. We should not forget here that there are currently no less than 12 federal agencies dealing with integrity and corruption. The obligations to report problematic conduct of this kind already exists. The crimes that we will be dealing with in a CIC already exist. The principles on which it will be founded are already in play and so, there should really be no change to the duties and the responsibilities of every person who works in this place.
TOM CONNELL: Amanda Stoker, thanks for your time.
Valeria Cheglov – 0438 494 351
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