The NSW Crime Commission is the most secretive and powerful police agency in Australia. Last week the NSW Parliament passed the Crime Commission Act 2012 that reshaped some of the organisation's oversight structures but failed to take the steps necessary to make the organisation fully accountable.
The new Act is a mixed bag. In short it:
- Took some steps forward by strengthening the oversight of the body;
- Worryingly widened the Crime Commission's reach into "ordinary policing operations";
- Removed Supreme Court oversight of criminal asset seizure orders; and
- Failed to take the opportunity to limit the indefinite executive detention powers of the Commissioner.
The Patten review of the Crime Commission
After more than two years of damaging revelations regarding the corrupt conduct of one of its officers, Mark Standen, and allegations that it was cutting secret multi-million dollar deals with criminals under the Crimes Assets Recovery legislation, it was generally agreed that the NSW Crime Commission was in urgent need of a thorough overhaul.
In 2011 NSW Police Minister Michael Gallacher asked former judge Mr David Patten QC to undertake a review of the Crime Commission. Mr Patten's report, which was handed down on 30 November 2011, made 57 recommendations for reform. The Government has adopted the great majority of them in this new Act, but crucially a number of fundamental recommendations have not been accepted by the government and were not included in the new Act.
What is good about the new Act? – improved oversight
Consistent with the Patten report the new Act has removed the Police Minister from the Management Committee of the Crime Commission. This is a commendable decision as the Management Committee considers operational reports and proposals for referral to the Crime Commission and there should be no opportunity for political input into these matters.
Again, consistent with the Patten report, the 2012 Act has established a new position of Inspector of the Crime Commission to undertake systemic oversight of the Commission's work. It was a further step forward when the government accepted a Greens' amendment during debate to grant the new Inspector the ability to make reasonable use of the resources and staff of the Police Integrity Commission to undertake that role. An inspectorate without adequate resources or staffing would be at best a paper watchdog.
These changes, together with a provision that will see the Crime Commission reviewed by a parliamentary committee, were all for the good.
Unfortunately, the story does not end there.
Crime Commission "mission creep"
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