Independent oversight of Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) investigations before charges are laid will help to ensure the serious failings of the watchdog are never repeated, the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) said today.
LGAQ CEO, Alison Smith welcomed the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the CCC, handed down by Chair Tony Fitzgerald AC QC and Commissioner Alan Wilson QC today, including the recommendation the watchdog must seek advice from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions before bringing corruption charges to avoid “unwarranted impact” of its investigations and rebuild public confidence.
The inquiry was commissioned as a result of a recommendation from a Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee report into the CCC’s investigation and decision to charge eight Logan City councillors with fraud back in 2019. The charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence.
Ms Smith said it was now time for the State to offer compensation and apologise to those impacted by the CCC’s actions.
“The LGAQ called for this Commission of Inquiry because what happened in the Logan matter damaged not just the livelihoods and reputations of those wrongly charged, but also the reputations of the CCC and the local government sector,” Ms Smith said.
“The additional oversight recommended by the Inquiry is a critical check and balance that is currently missing and we look forward to the State implementing this and the Inquiry’s other 31 recommendations as soon as possible.
“As we have always said, Queensland needs to have a fearless CCC that is thorough, rigorous and robust.
“But it must have adequate checks and balances to preserve its own reputation and trust with the public, and to ensure it is not abusing its extensive powers.”
The new inquiry made 32 recommendations about the CCC’s structure and ongoing operation, including:
- Introducing checks and balances in charging practices including requiring the CCC to seek advice from the DPP before corruption charges are laid;
- Adopting a more holistic approach to address corruption;
- Clarifying police secondment arrangements; and
- Better training.
Ms Smith said the next step was for those unjustly impacted by the CCC’s actions in the Logan matter to be compensated.
“We must not forget there was a real human cost to the wrongful actions of the CCC in the Logan matter,” said Ms Smith.
“As the bipartisan Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee found in its report last year, the CCC acted outside the laws that govern it and charged elected members without taking all evidence into account.
“The State must now make amends for the actions of the CCC by ensuring compensation and an apology for all those impacted and by implementing the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry to safeguard against a repeat of this travesty of justice.”
Ms Smith said the LGAQ had also called for a legislative review of section 175K of the Local Government Act 2009 regarding the suspension of councillors charged with a disqualifying offence and she welcomed the Commission of Inquiry listing this as an additional area the government should consider.
“The Logan matter demonstrates the unintended consequences that can arise through the use of this of section,” Ms Smith said.
“We would like consideration given as to whether the automatic suspension should only occur once a councillor has been committed to stand trial, or indicated their intention to plead guilty, to ensure those charged are not denied natural justice,” she said.
Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszscuk described the review’s recommendation as “very sensible”
“It is vital that the democratic institutions of our State are respected and protected and wherever possible improved,’” the Premier said.
“It’s thanks to the Fitzgerald Inquiry that Queensland has a permanent anti-corruption watchdog that has served us for the past 30 years.
“It’s thanks to this Commission of Inquiry that we will have an even better anti-corruption body to serve us into the future,” she said.