Spearing NSW Premier could be a setback for stronger anti-corruption powers in other states
Deborah Cornwall reported this story on Thursday, April 17, 2014 18:18:00

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MARK COLVIN: The sudden downfall of the New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell has unleashed something of a backlash against the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption).

Critics accuse the New South Wales watchdog of using star chamber-like powers to destroy a head of state.

The attack comes at a time when most state anti-corruption bodies in Australia are still hobbled by a lack of powers and struggling to be effective.

But some fear that this week’s events are only likely to set back the call for greater anti-corruption powers in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.

Deborah Cornwall reports.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: It’s 25 years since the landmark Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland first exposed corruption that led all the way to the top. Since then corruption watchdogs have been frog marching police, public servants, even premiers, into the witness box.

But the chairman of Transparency International, Roger Gyles QC, says resistance to anti-corruption bodies is as ferocious as ever; and claiming the scalp of the most popular premier in the country probably won’t help.

ROGER GYLES: I mean I can understand everybody’s feelings about this because having in mind the topic of the ICAC inquiries over the last 12 months, it is at one end of the scale, no question. He wasn’t a known target. He was collateral damage. And on one view of it he was ambushed because they had the documents, and they knew that they had it, and they went after him.

Now that doesn’t, however, take away from the fact that he gave the answers he gave.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Roger Gyles says flushing out cosy and corrupt practices in government does require extraordinary powers of coercion, in large part because it is so difficult to prove.

Laying charges for corrupt behaviour is even more challenging – a weakness in the justice system that needs urgent review.

(To Roger Gyles) Is it actually the object of the exercise to get a criminal conviction by these anti-corruption bodies, or is that just a bonus?

ROGER GYLES: Well look, I think the way that they’ve been set up, it’s a fair description to say that it’s a bonus. I think that’s very little understood amongst the public. And it may be that it’s a stretch too far to have people understand that, because it does offend common sense that we have these rather sensational disclosures of conduct which is described as corrupt, and yet people are not even charged.