: Who watches the watchdog?

Who watches the watchdog?

Kate Galloway

Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission (‘CMC’), like the Criminal Justice Commission before it, was established to help restore confidence in Queensland’s public institutions after the 1987–89 Fitzgerald Inquiry.

The CMC is the subject of two recent reviews. The first, undertaken by former High Court Judge Ian Callinan QC, has made 17 recommendations. Public release of the full report awaits Crown Law advice. According to Premier Newman, the CMC is ‘threatening legal action’ if the full report is released.

Recommendations include constraining the CMC’s research function — regarded as a key plank in Fitzgerald’s own recommendations. While the report claims this will ‘sharpen’ the CMC’s focus on complaints, others such as former Premier Peter Beattie claim this will rob Queensland of an ‘independent voice on criminal justice and public administration.’

Callinan also recommends new offences for lodging ‘vexatious’ and ‘baseless’ allegations; and for publicly revealing complaints before an investigation is concluded. While this may address the apparently increasing number of malicious or politically motivated complaints, it may also reduce the incentive for whistleblowers to complain — in that, under the recommendations, they would face potential prosecution.

The second review, conducted by the Parliamentary CMC, found the release and shredding of confidential papers from the Fitzgerald Inquiry was unlawful. It identified ‘serious failings in corporate governance’, though three committee members signed a statement of reservation about this finding. The review sought an independent review of the incident, and changes to information handling and reporting processes.

With now two reports pointing to issues of transparency and accountability in the CMC, it seems that the CMC will not avoid reform. However each review and the responses to them highlight the highly charged political nature of the CMC and its role. Needless to say, the nature and extent of any reform will determine the extent to which Fitzgerald’s legacy is upheld.

KATE GALLOWAY teaches law at James Cook University.

(2013) 38(2) AltLJ 131
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