NSW’s key integrity agencies, including the corruption watchdog, will take a $14 million hit over the next four years as the government forces them to find significant savings from their budgets.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption, which is in the process of investigating Drummoyne MP John Sidoti and former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, has been told to find $3.4 million in savings in the four years to 2023-24.
The ICAC has long been pleading with the Berejiklian government to address its funding concerns, warning it would be forced to reduce the organisation to its smallest size in its 30-year history.
The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission will also need to save $3.3 million, the NSW Electoral Commission $4.45 million, the NSW Ombudsman’s $3.4 million and the Audit Office $373,000.
The savings issued to the agencies were revealed in supplementary questions during budget estimates with Special Minister of State Don Harwin on Wednesday.
Labor’s Treasury spokesman Walt Secord said the measures were a “defacto declaration of war on the state’s integrity bodies”.
“Sadly the easiest way to stymie those who root out corruption is to tie their investigative hands behind their backs,” Mr Secord said.
“In the past year, we have heard revelations against the Premier’s office shredding important documents and delivering millions of dollars in grants without proper process.”
A report from the Auditor-General last year has warned that the independence of the ICAC is at risk because decisions around its funding are made behind closed doors by cabinet ministers who could end up involved in inquiries.
The report said “effective decision-making process should ensure that those who could be investigated do not determine the funding of the investigating body.”
The warning came one month after Premier Gladys Berejiklian was called before ICAC, where she revealed she had been in a secret five-year relationship with Mr Maguire, who is accused of corrupt conduct.
A public hearing into Mr Sidoti, who has been forced to quit cabinet and sit on the crossbench, will start on Monday. ICAC is investigating his business dealings.
Meanwhile, ICAC’s inquiry into Mr Maguire is ongoing. Earlier this week, a separate ICAC inquiry recommended charges be considered against Ms Berejiklian’s former partner after the commission found he gave false and misleading evidence.
Mr Harwin’s office has been contacted for comment.
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