On 14 April 2021 the Commissioner issued a public statement announcing the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had laid charges against two South Australia Police officers as a result of an ICAC investigation. The two officers were charged with one count each of aggravated assault and appeared before the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court on 27 April. The matter is adjourned until 3 September 2021.
On 25 May 2021 the Commissioner issued a public statement announcing that a surgeon employed by SA Health had been charged with 25 counts of deception following an ICAC investigation. The matter was heard in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on 1 June 2021 and is listed for pre-trial conference on 16 September 2021.
A primary function of the ICAC is to identify and investigate corruption in public administration. Where evidence of criminal conduct is obtained, the Commissioner may refer the matter to the DPP, who will decide whether or not to commence prosecution.
Deputy ICAC farewelled
In May this year it was announced that South Australia’s first Deputy Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Mr Michael Riches, would be the Northern Territory’s next Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.
Mr Riches played an integral role in the establishment of the South Australian ICAC and Office for Public Integrity (OPI). He began as a senior legal officer before taking on the role of Director Legal Services and Reviews. In late 2016 Mr Riches won the role of Chief Executive Officer of the office of the ICAC and the OPI before being appointed Deputy Commissioner in 2018.
Mr Riches has made an invaluable contribution to the work of the Commissioner and OPI and also to the integrity of public administration. We thank him for his contribution and wish him all the best for his time as the Northern Territory ICAC.
A proposal to address Parliamentary conduct
On 16 July 2021 Commissioner Vanstone made a written submission to the Joint Committee on the Equal Opportunity Commissioner’s Report into Harassment in the Parliament Workplace.
In An Independent Complaints Mechanism to Address Complaints of Misconduct by Members of Parliament, the Commissioner welcomed commitments by the Premier and Attorney-General to introduce a Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, noting that South Australia is the only state or territory without an existing Code.
The Commissioner examined Codes of Conduct for Members in other states and territories to present a Draft Code of Conduct that could implement the recommendations of the Review including by expressly impugning sexual harassment.
The Draft Code would “provide a yardstick against which conduct could be measured. It would also provide clarity to Members and the community about the ethical principles and standards of behaviour the community expects of its elected public officials,” the Commissioner wrote.
The Commissioner warned that a Code of Conduct would be “symbolic only” without an independent complaints process to accompany it.
Building upon existing mechanisms in the Judicial Conduct Commissioner Act 2015 (SA), the Commissioner proposed that an independent authority, free of the Executive, be established to determine disputed claims against Members. That model has some parallel with the system of the United Kingdom, which established a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in 1995.
The Commissioner explained the Judicial Conduct Commissioner Act 2015 (SA) provides an existing framework that could be readily amended to encompass complaints against Members. She also noted that this would address most of the deficits that discourage complainants from reporting.
As Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Commissioner Vanstone is also South Australia’s Judicial Conduct Commissioner (JCC).
In her proposal, she explained that the roles of the ICAC and the JCC are incompatible because ICAC applications for warrants or investigations proceeding to court may come before a judicial officer who has previously been examined by the JCC.
Commissioner Vanstone has therefore requested she relinquish the role of JCC at a convenient time.
A review of the Country Members Accommodation Allowance
On 14 July 2021 the Commissioner wrote to the President of the Remuneration Tribunal of South Australia about the Country Members Accommodation Allowance. The Remuneration Tribunal is an independent tribunal responsible for reviewing and determining salaries, entitlements, and other allowances for public office holders such as Members of Parliament.
In her correspondence, the Commissioner gave examples of some of the problems she had observed in how the Country Members Accommodation Allowance scheme is administered; specifically noting that her observations did not apply to any Member under investigation.
One requirement for claiming the Country Members Accommodation Allowance is that a Member has to have incurred “actual expenditure” for overnight accommodation costs, but there appears to remain a degree of confusion as to what type of expenditure qualifies.
The Commissioner said the issue of eligibility for claims was not well understood among Members.
“…at least one Member appeared to hold the view that the Allowance was available for nights spent anywhere other than at home in the country.”
The Commissioner is also of the view that the scheme is administratively burdensome.
“…the record keeping requirements… are quite demanding, especially for a less organised Member. At the other end of the process, significant burdens are placed on the Clerk of the House to ensure that claims are adequately supported, internally consistent, and generally meet the requirements of (the scheme). Then there is a requirement upon finance staff to process each claim, usually monthly.”
The Commissioner suggested that the Tribunal consider implementing a fixed yearly allowance, payable to country Members to compensate for expense incurred in staying in metropolitan Adelaide when required for parliamentary, electoral or community duties.
“In my opinion a scheme such as this would eliminate uncertainty, save a good deal of time spent in record keeping and would add to the transparency of remuneration for Members of Parliament.”