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Integrity Commission

18 August 2015

QUESTION WITHOUT NOTICE

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr HODGMAN
You are responsible for the State's public service and therefore its culture and standards. Do you agree that public servants, crown employees and all elected representatives should be held to the highest standards of conduct? Do you believe Tasmania is immune from the kind of corruption and misconduct offences that have been exposed by integrity bodies in mainland states? If so, why? If not, how do you explain your Government's actions and failures to act? What is your response to the scathing criticism made by outgoing Integrity Commission Chief Commissioner, Murray Kellam, who condemns your Government's 20 per cent cut to the Integrity Commission's budget, your push to remove its investigative powers and failure to give it the investigative teeth to do its job properly? Is highly respected ex-justice Kellam wrong? Why is your Government so apparently intent on making a feeble thing of our integrity body?


ANSWER
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question and note the departing comments of the former head of the commission, Mr Murray Kellam. We thank him for his contribution in the role over the past five years, including facilitating the commission's establishment. The Government's very clear position on this matter was a commitment we took to the election to reduce the funding allocation to the Integrity Commission, but we are confident it has the resources to perform its functions, as the CEO outlined in budget Estimates this year. The savings which the commission found to meet its budget allocation did not include a reduction of investigators, but included items such as reduced car and travel costs, a media adviser position and cheaper rent arrangements.

In relation to the performance and standards expected by the public in relation to the State Service, a very high standard is expected. It should be noted that the Integrity Commission already has the capacity to refer matters they believe could result in criminal prosecutions to Tasmania Police or to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Criminal Code provides a number of relevant provisions that may capture misconduct in public office. It includes provisions relating to fraud, stealing, dishonestly acquiring a financial advantage, disclosing official secrets, bribery and crimes relating to corruption and abuse of public office. To suggest that misconduct, including the circumstances described above, cannot be investigated and prosecuted under our current criminal laws, is patently incorrect.

I understand that investigations mentioned by Mr Kellam had not been referred to the DPP or the Commissioner of Police, as provided for by section 81H of the act. Should the Integrity Commission believe there are matters that constitute misconduct, then I, and I am sure all members, would strongly encourage them to refer those allegations to the DPP or police.

The Government is currently considering the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Integrity. It is noted that the JSC was not unanimous in recommending the creation of a new misconduct and public office offence. In considering the JSC report, the Government is also mindful of the requirement under section 106 of the Integrity Commission Act for the minister to commission an independent review of the act and the operations of the Integrity Commission as soon as possible after 31 December 2015, and that the review must be conducted by a person who holds or has held office as a judge in an Australian jurisdiction.

The Government considers it inappropriate to implement any major legislative reforms prior to the conclusion of the independent review process. We take fraud or corruption in public office very seriously. However, as is often the case there is no simple legislative fix, as the Greens would suggest. Any changes, should they be required, would be complex and would require consultation with a wide range of legal and community stakeholders