Jenny Leong adds support to the ICAC and Other Independent Commissions Legislation Amendment Bill

Jenny Leong participates in the ICAC and Other Independent Commissions Legislation Amendment (Independent Funding) Bill 2021 (No. 2) debate, 24 March 2022.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (12:23): On behalf of The Greens, I make a contribution to debate on the ICAC and Other Independent Commissions Legislation Amendment (Independent Funding) Bill 2021 (No. 2). I acknowledge the member for Murray for bringing this important bill to the Chamber. It is absolutely critical that the bill, which seeks to establish the administrative and financial independence of four oversight agencies—the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission [LECC], the NSW Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman's office and the Audit Office—is supported in the Chamber today.

Successive governments in New South Wales have attempted to avoid the significant scrutiny provided by the oversight agencies within our State. As a result of a lack of financial and administrative independence, we have seen huge levels of concern, huge levels of corruption and huge levels of mismanagement and failed delivery of significant public projects. The bill would establish committees to review the budget information prepared by the Department of the Legislative Council and the Department of Parliamentary Services and to determine amounts of appropriations for inclusion in the annual appropriation Act. The Public Accounts Committee would be empowered to review budget information prepared by the Audit Office and to determine amounts of appropriations for inclusion in relevant appropriation Acts. The Treasurer would then have to make a statement of explanation if an appropriation made by an appropriation Act is inconsistent with the determination of a committee on the appropriation.

I note the member for Sydney in the chair. How lovely it is to see an Independent in that role. It is nice to see you there, Mr Temporary Speaker. I will provide a little bit of background. Successive governments have tried to avoid the scrutiny of the ICAC for too long, and there have been serious issues around the independent funding of it. My Greens colleague the member for Balmain has worked tirelessly to highlight and expose the complete lack of funding available to the ICAC and to make sure that it delivers for the community in overseeing issues of corruption. In fact, before I was even elected to this place, he had a motion passed in this Chamber on a Thursday, on private members' day, supporting the ongoing independent funding of the ICAC. No-one on either side of the Chamber dared to oppose that. But this bill will deliver that, and what do we hear from Government members? "Oh, no, sorry, we're not interested anymore." They are happy to look like they are very supportive of independent oversight just before an election, but the election is not for another year. There is that awkward thing around current Liberal Government members being investigated by the ICAC or who are part of the discussions around it. Maybe it is a little uncomfortable for them to support independent funding, financial support and administrative support for the oversight agencies.

Let me go back to December 2019. The ICAC Chief Commissioner warned that the ICAC will be forced to shed a quarter of its full-time staff over the next financial year due to inadequate funding, reducing the organisation to its smallest size in its 30-year history. In May 2020 the ICAC produced a report on the need for a new funding model. The report contained legal advice from Bret Walker, SC, stating that the ICAC's funding arrangements may have been unlawful. In October 2020 my Greens colleague the member for Balmain, our anti‑corruption spokesperson, asked Premier Berejiklian in this place whether she would act on the ICAC's request for independent funding. I will let other people draw conclusions about what might have been going on at the time that the member for Balmain was asking the Premier whether she would support the request of the ICAC for independent funding.

In October 2020 the Auditor-General released a report examining the effectiveness of the financial arrangements and management practices of four integrity agencies, finding that the role of the Executive Government in deciding annual funding for the integrity agencies presents a threat to their independence. That report included recommendations that the ICAC funding model be changed. In February 2021 the Public Accountability Committee, chaired by my Greens upper House colleague Mr David Shoebridge, held an inquiry into the budget process for independent oversight bodies and the Parliament of New South Wales, which reported in February 2021. The report recommended a range of reforms, including that the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, the NSW Ombudsman and the NSW Electoral Commission be directly allocated their annual funding through appropriation legislation, rather than the funding being allocated to the relevant Minister, so that they are not subject to reductions of funding during the financial year.

In February 2022 the member for Balmain asked Premier Perrottet during question time when his Government would respond to the Auditor-General's report. In March 2022 we welcomed the Opposition's commitment to independent funding of the State's anti-corruption watchdog. It was very welcome to hear what the member for Summer Hill said on behalf of the Opposition. I hope that in March 2023 we might see a shift in who sits on what side of this Chamber. The Greens will be here, making sure that a potential new Labor government holds to its commitment to ensure ICAC's financial and administrative independence. Because we have been disappointed by NSW Labor before. It is not news that it promises one thing in opposition then gets into government and does a completely different thing. We are used to that behaviour, and it is good to have on record that the Opposition is committed to this. Labor has had its own problems with ICAC in the past, and I hope that, should we see a future Labor government in New South Wales, it will hold to its commitments.

Mr Mark Speakman: Are you going to be a coalition with them?

Ms JENNY LEONG: I note the interjection from the Attorney General. The Greens have been calling for the Government to act on these issues for a number of years, and we strongly support the bill. I ask the Attorney General to table the secret Coalition agreement between The Nationals and the Liberals that no-one in this Chamber has ever seen. If we are talking about coalitions that are lacking transparency, let us talk for a minute about the numbers in this Chamber. Let us talk about the disgraced Liberal members sitting on the crossbench and the fact that this Government is doing everything it can to avoid a vote. Why? Because it does not have the numbers in this Chamber anymore, yet the Attorney General is asking us about coalition governments.

The Coalition is looking pretty shaky. We saw what the New South Wales Government looked like when Labor was in power last time, 11 years ago. What happened? It started losing members to ICAC and to indiscretions. Now we see the same thing happening to this very shaky Coalition Government. I thanks the Attorney General for his interjection. I will talk about the shaky Coalition Government in New South Wales. Bring on a vote today, and we will see how those numbers fall and how solid the Coalition Government is.

Back to the bill at hand, we know that the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission has responsibility and oversight for the NSW Police Force. As a member of this place who has made a personal complaint to the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission—perhaps the only member; I am not sure about others—I can attest to the fact that that body is underfunded and under-resourced. I hear regularly from people who have complaints about the police and take those issues to the LECC. The complaints are unable to be investigated because of a lack of resources. It took a number of years for me to go through the process because the LECC is under-resourced to handle these matters.

It is very concerning that we have police in New South Wales who are not being held to account because the LECC is not provided with enough funding. Why is that? It is because there is a continuous law and order auction in this State in the lead-up to elections that sees more funding for police and more desire to provide police with protections that do not allow for independent oversight and accountability. The Greens are absolutely committed to the independent oversight of police. We acknowledge that there is an absolute need to make sure that the independent commissions, including ICAC, are independently funded and that their administration is independent from the relevant Minister. We support the bill, and we urge Government members to look at themselves in the mirror. Then they would see that the bill would provide them with the necessary protections and transparency to stop the arrogance of a government that has been in power for way too long.

Sign up for updates