ICAC’s refusal to let victim widow speak ‘high catalyst’ for reform

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The architect of South Australia’s controversial ICAC reforms said he was motivated to take action after Commissioner Ann Vanstone told a widow she could not speak to MPs about the circumstances that led her husband to commit suicide after a lengthy investigation.

SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo called Independent Anti-Corruption Commissioner Ann Vantone’s decision to refuse widow Debbie Barr’s permission to speak to her in the Houses of Parliament after her husband’s death as “unjust” and “high among the catalysts for the law that Parliament passed unanimously last week.” .

As evidence to Parliament’s Select Committee on Damage, Damage or Adverse Consequences from ICAC Investigations on Monday, Barr described the events leading up to the 2019 death of her husband, a high-ranking police officer, Doug, who was under investigation by ICAC but was eventually acquitted. from doing wrong.

Barr told the committee that Doug, who served as a police officer for 43 years, endured more than two years of mental anguish knowing he was under ICAC investigation, but was unsure of what he was charged with before the pressure of the situation eventually led him to it. trying to take his life in the family home.

Former ICAC said Bruce Lander died in hospital eight days before completing the draft investigation that cleared the police officer for misconduct.

A letter tabled in Parliament this week shows that Barr wrote to Lander’s successor, Vanstone, asking permission to speak with Pangallo about the ICAC investigation in October last year – nearly a year after Doug’s death.

Pangallo claims that the meeting will be held at the Parliament Building and will be protected under parliamentary privilege.

Barr was required to obtain authorization from Vanstone in accordance with the then-weakened confidentiality provisions under the ICAC Act, which prevented individuals from disclosing information about investigations.

“I previously requested (and was given) authorization from this office to disclose information to individuals within SAPOL to assist the Forensic Investigation into Doug’s death,” Barr wrote.

“I am currently in a position where it is necessary to discuss the situation surrounding Doug’s death with a member of the South Australian Parliament.

“However, it is impractical to have this conversation while avoiding any mention or discussion of the ongoing ICAC investigation at the time of his death.”

In his response to Barr eight days later, Vanstone expressed his condolences, but said he “did not see fit to authorize”.

“May I begin by expressing my condolences for the loss of your husband,” she wrote.

“Article 54 of the ICAC Act exists to protect the confidentiality of an ICAC investigation.

“Under these circumstances, and given the ongoing judicial investigation, I do not think it would be appropriate to grant the authorization you have requested.

“However, if you wish, I allow you to disclose this letter to Mr. Pangallo MLC.”

Barr told the parliamentary committee he felt compelled to speak to Pangallo because “no one was listening to us and we knew something terrible had happened to our family”.

“We needed to shed some light on this because it was such a terrible thing and we really didn’t want it to happen to anyone again,” he said.

Barr’s son Christopher, who testified before the committee, said the family was “shocked” to read that Vanstone had not given him permission to speak with Pangallo.

“We thought it was very clear that this permission should be given,” he said.

“We thought it would be a procedural question for us to ask for this permission, but we did not anticipate that we would be denied or denied the opportunity to speak to lawmakers about what happened.”

Barrs testified to the committee days after parliament swiftly and unanimously passed a bill submitted by Pangallo to significantly cut off the wings of ICAC.

This is the way parliament should work in an ideal world

Under the former Law, individuals were barred from speaking publicly about ICAC investigations unless they had the permission of the Commissioner.

New laws, yet to be ratified, strengthen privilege provisions in the law, allowing individuals to disclose information about ICAC investigations when speaking under parliamentary prerogative.

Pangallo told Daily He said privilege protections should be addressed in legislation to “correct many of the flaws in the original Bill that was passed nearly 20 years ago.”

“This unsatisfactory peace given to Ms. Barr, the appalling treatment of eight police officers from Sturt Mantle who was accused and later found not guilty after the inept joint SAPOL-ICAC investigation known as Operation Bandicoot, was high among the catalysts of the law in Parliament last week.” said.

“Mrs. Barr had nowhere and no one to turn to to seek a remedy in the tragic, unjust and unwarranted circumstances that overwhelmed her distraught family.

“What the Barr family had to endure is only now beginning to emerge and it cannot be allowed to happen again. Nor the treatment of those eight innocent police officers.”

Pangallo said he understood why Vanstone was wary of Barr, but called Barr’s refusal “unnecessary”.

“This is where the public debate is mischievously side-tracked, with hysterical media comments fueled by the current Commissioner and his predecessor that it is designed to protect ‘corrupt MPs and police officers’,” he said.

“He doesn’t do it at all, and it’s blatant insanity how people can believe that all 69 politicians are going to do it for their own benefit.

“It provides additional protection to whistleblowers and injured persons such as Ms. Barr.

“This is how Parliament should work in an ideal world.

“I wish we could see more.”

Daily Contacted Vanstone for comment.

ICAC reforms, in addition to reinforcing the primacy of parliamentary prerogative, also limit the office’s jurisdiction to investigating serious and systemic corruption issues.

Fraud and mismanagement investigations will be the responsibility of the State Ombudsman as the Office of Public Integrity has been moved outside of ICAC’s jurisdiction.

Acted by the recommendations of a separate parliamentary committee chaired by Pangallo, the laws also establish an independent Office of the Inspectorate to replace the current ICAC Reviewer – with “ICAC’s enhanced review and oversight powers”.

Both Vanstone and Lander criticized the reforms, with the first saying that the laws would “seriously narrow ICAC’s powers. [placing] politicians are unreachable”.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call LifeLine on 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Triage Service/Assessment and Crisis Response Service on 13 14 65.

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