Barrister Slams Aussie Law That Allows Politicians To Use Taxpayer Dollars For Legal Fees
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A barrister has slammed the new law change that allows South Australian members of parliament and public officials to have their legal fees covered by taxpayer money.
ABC News reports that South Australian members of parliament and public servants accused of defrauding taxpayers can now have legal costs paid by taxpayers after Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigations, even if they end up being convicted.
The new scheme falls under the state’s anti-corruption laws, which were unanimously passed by parliament last year.
However, Barrister and Centre for Public Integrity director, Geoffrey Watson, told the national broadcaster that the public should be ‘outraged’ by the recent amendment, especially if a politician is found guilty.
He said: "In simple terms, a politician could be caught out in an act of corruption, defend it, be found guilty and be the subject of scathing observations by a magistrate and then recover his or her costs for having unsuccessfully defended the matter.
"It will operate retrospectively, with the potential of reimbursing politicians successfully prosecuted … which is just an extraordinary thing. I've never heard of such a thing."
Mr Watson also warned that government officials would abuse the system and take every legal opportunity on the grounds of an appeal because taxpayers would cover the bill.
He said: "There's no public accountability at all. We can't even get to the bottom of how much the lawyers are being paid, how much they charged, whether those charges were realistic or not. That's also going to be kept secret — brushed under the carpet.”
The state’s ICAC Ann Vanstone said there had been significant changes to South Australia's ICAC laws, narrowing the scope of the independent agency and reducing transparency.
Under the new changes, Ms Vanstone would only be able to investigate corruption, not misconduct or maladministration.
She said: "I would argue this has potential to impact, not only upon my independence in determining what matters to investigate, but also on the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions."
However, SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo defended the South Australian parliament and said changes were made after a police officer took his own life during an ICAC investigation, according to InDaily.
Chief Superintendent Doug Barr had already taken his life after the ICAC report cleared him of corruption.
Pangallo also panned Ms Vanstone's decision not to allow widow Debbie Barr to speak before Parliament House as ‘unwarranted’.
He said: “This is where the public debate has been mischievously side-tracked by hysterical media commentary, fuelled by the current Commissioner and her predecessor, that it has been designed to protect ‘corrupt MPs and police officers’.
“It doesn’t do that at all and how people could believe that 69 politicians would all do this for self-interest is plain madness.
“It provides additional protections for whistle-blowers and those like Mrs Barr who have been harmed.
“This is the way Parliament should work in an ideal world.”
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