Beware the sleepy old watchdog: CCC getting slow but wants more bite

The Crime and Corruption Commission is frustrating government agencies with the pace of its investigations.

Aug 28, 2020, updated Aug 28, 2020
Crime and Corruption Commission chairman Alan MacSporran. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Crime and Corruption Commission chairman Alan MacSporran. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

A routine parliamentary committee inquiry into the CCC has heard departments, who also deal with corruption matters internally under CCC supervision, would prefer faster outcomes.

Similar concerns have been raised by politicians on all sides, compounded by questions over the CCC’s method of public reporting, particularly in relation to matters concerning former deputy premier Jackie Trad.

Yet the CCC continues to push for a controversial ban on journalists reporting on corruption complaints during election campaigns, even as its own data confirms it has been dragging the chain on investigations.

In a submission, Queensland Health diplomatically suggested “the department is interested in receiving timely and consistent decisions from the CCC regarding all corrupt conduct matters”.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads suggested delays were even worse in previous years.

“Historically, the experience of TMR when notifying the CCC of any matter involving suspected corrupt conduct is that the assessment by the CCC was sometimes not timely,” the department said.

“In some cases, CCC Matters Assessed Reports were not provided to TMR until some months after initial notification, leading to unnecessary delays in investigation timeframes.”

Data in the CCC’s submission shows the percentage of investigated matters finalised within 12 months has fallen from 92 per cent in 2016-17 to just 51 per cent in 2019-20 – well under the target of 85 per cent. It still has some high-profile matters to conclude.

The Palaszczuk government recently backed down on plans to implement the CCC’s proposed ban on media reporting of complaints during an election campaign. Various agencies already have programs to reduce the likelihood of frivolous or vexatious complaints, and journalists have their own ethical and legal obligations to help mitigate the impacts.

The CCC has used its submission to call for a suite of reforms to strengthen its position, including that its crime hearings and “compulsory information production powers” be available for crime prevention, not just investigations.

“This would have benefits for matters such as the child death review panel in reviewing child deaths and serious injury,” the CCC suggested.

The Queensland Law Society, however, argued the CCC already had significant powers. While not mentioning the prevention issue specifically, the society called for “no further broadening of these powers in the absence of a strong evidentiary basis”.

“Some of the CCC’s legislative powers abrogate cornerstone principles of our legal system; for example, powers to compel an individual to give evidence even if doing so may tend to incriminate them and the derivative use of evidence,” the society stated in its submission.

“This is a significant concern.”

The society called for a monitoring agency to oversee the CCC – effectively a watchdog to watch over the watchdog – to “provide further assistance to the committee in ensuring their activities are being carried out appropriately and in accordance with the law”.

The Queensland Police Union called for the CCC to be stripped off its crime functions, arguing those powers and capabilities could be safely returned to the Queensland Police Service.

“It is the QPU’s position there is no place within what should be the State’s premier anti-corruption body for a crime commission, witness protection or research function,” the union argued.

“Queensland has come a long way since the dark days of the late 1980’s and the Fitzgerald Inquiry. There can be no serious contention that systemic or widespread corruption infects any department, let alone the Queensland Police Service.”

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