At ICAC you know you’ve made it when, in your hand, you can see the net result of
excessive, unjustifiable use of power, on small, innocent, indefensible creatures.
It’s probably about as good a depiction as any when it comes to gauging the thrill felt among those who pursue flawed investigations within ICAC – using a system of ‘butterfly wing separation’ measurement that’s familiar to its Commissioner Megan Latham, at least.
To be fair though, she stepped into an organisation with an internal culture that began to rot well before she arrived and she needs to stop plucking wings and start clearing out the dead wood around her – because there’s lots.
One simple and unarguable fact: Ryde councillor, Jeff Salvestro-Martin, was dragged through ICAC’s Ryde investigation and public inquiry based on a bungled allegation against six innocent councillors.
Even worse, that bungled allegation was used to strip him of protections from potential reprisals under the Public Interest Disclosure Act due to several referrals of serious, documented and easily provable corruption, ironically involving those it chose to rely on in its evidence – and for those of you who just want that in plain English: ICAC ignored serious, systemic corruption and evidence of it presented in a series of documents, to instead doggedly pursue spurious, vexatious and largely concocted claims by those with a barrow to push.
It has taken a national broadsheet and persistent, experienced and knowledgeable reporting and analysis by The Australian’s legal affairs editor Chris Merritt and senior reporter Sharri Markson to fill the massive void in the Sydney metro media’s coverage of ICAC so you could finally be informed about the unacceptable conduct of the reckless agency.
Often, old and jaded journos will declare themselves worth of the investigative reporter tag – one the had been appropriate in years gone by, but not any more. These are the kind of journos that are letting their newspaper readers down. They are the weakest link and despite media company senior management being constantly accused of diluting the standard of journalism with each and every round of redundancies – the dead wood always seems to escape being cleared out.
It’s these spent cartridges on the editorial floor, easily spotted by their laziness and addiction to rations of ICAC’s magic headline fertiliser, that devalue the media’s important accountability role, relegating it to serve more as ICAC’s insurance against reform.
Ryde councillor Jeff Salvestro-Martin should never have had to endure the public humiliation he was subjected to at the hands of a small clique of corrupt officials whose tendency to resort to personal attacks, dirty tricks, smear campaigns, deception and regular duplicitous behaviour in their dogged pursuit of personal gain at the expense of the communities they supposedly represent, fit the profile of what ICAC is meant to investigate and eliminate.
But beyond simply neglecting their civic duty and responsibility to constituents, those in the clique strayed even further, spectacularly infiltrating decision-making processes of the ICAC, interfering with them and then ultimately using the ICAC as a weapon to eliminate their political rivals and even assume power if they could realise their destructive intent.
It worked a treat. In broad daylight, while everyone simply watched on and apathy anaesthetised the urge to intervene, the clique was easily able to realise what it corruptly set out to achieve.
Despite some obvious hints that something was not right, another three years passed and a still, no one had challenged ICAC’s actions in relation to Ryde.
Surely an ICAC inquiry into six councillors that valiantly fought a controversial twin tower overdevelopment, overwhelmingly opposed by their constituents within the community, was a demonstration of democratic process operating precisely the way it was intended?
And surely a truly independent corruption watchdog would have have no problem identifying those among the six councillors spruiking the redevelopment that had shown clear indications their support for the proposal was fuelled by self-interest?
A corruption watchdog that receives more than 3,000 referrals of corruption each year and time one of its limited resources, would surely reject an in inquiry into the six fighting the development based on it obviously amounting to payback, an abuse of process or vexatious claim?
Surely, just three years after former ICAC Commissioner Ipp sought significant additional funding and carried out an inquiry he cites as one of his legacies, into the risks posed by lobbying and lobbyists, calling on 51 witnesses and handing down 17 recommendations, it would be inappropriate to be led in evidence by a lobbyist/councillor and have his evidence corroborated by his employee, who is also a lobbyist and happens to also be the incumbent Attorney General’s son?
Surely, with the growing pressure over the cases ICAC has been pursuing, it didn’t need a Ryde inquiry in flimsy foundations, if any at all, to exacerbate its woes?
When you swooped to collected Neish’s laptop from Ryde Council premises after learning his office requested the hard drive be formatted – presumably to destroy evidence of his porn downloads – you must’ve had a hunch he was doing something wrong? And not a single mention has been made of it since. Why the determination to conceal this?
If you didn’t know who the bad guys were – either through incompetence or ignorance – perhaps the documented referrals of corruption involving those you’ve entrusted to lead your evidence could have offered a valuable hint.
When you bungled your allegation against the councillors, realised it and quickly removed references to the allegation from public statements, why didn’t you just decide then to let them go as they were being wrongly accused?
Probably the worst thing about the entire Ryde ICAC fiasco – that the agency’s staff, amid a culture of complacency, underperformance, abuse of power, deception and a sense of immunity from the constraints of proper accountability and oversight, had allowed an intrusive and premeditated act of political interference.
They’d shown no sign of dissent, but rather, cooperation to the point they were collaborators, even partners, in this criminal enterprise.