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March 21, 2014

CMC Changes; Misconduct no longer serious enough?

by dankrogers


On 19 March 2014, the Liberal Party introduced legislation to re-badge the Crime and Misconduct Commission as the Crime and Corruption Commission. The Bill is called the Crime and Misconduct and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014.

Under the proposed reforms in the Bill the government is seeking to focus the Commission’s work on more serious instances of corruption as opposed to misconduct. As a body designed to hold government to account, it is concerning that its oversight reach is being dramatically reduced. Misconduct, it seems, is no longer serious enough and only corruption is. Other changes concern the process for making a complaint.

This Bill is due, in part, to the report of Justice Ian Callinan and Nicholas Aroney earlier last year where a significant review of the Commission occurred. One of the recommendations of that report was the possible criminalisation of complaints determined to be vexatious or without truth.

In August of last year I appeared in Parliament at an open government forum focussed on accountability in government. I expressed my concern that any criminalisation of vexatious complaints to the Commission would deter those wishing to hold government departments or officials to account.

My concern when appearing before the open government forum was that vulnerable individuals particularly those who are mentally ill, homeless or indigenous would be too fearful to make a complaint for fear of prosecution. Individuals wishing to complain against government officials, particularly police, already face significant anxiety with an unfamiliar process. The added risk of a criminal investigation or prosecution of them for an alleged vexatious complaint would simply be too much for many people.

I was therefore pleased to see that the Premier has rejected the idea of a separate charge in relation to vexatious complaints. Instead, he has preferred a process where any person wishing to complain against police or other government officials must sign a statutory declaration. In practical terms, this makes it less likely that a person would face a prosecution by the Commission. However, any person signing a statutory declaration can be pursued for perjury if that statement is later proven to be false.

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