Secret NT ICAC recordings – including of former Opposition leader Gary Higgins – ‘inappropriate if not illegal’, Inspector finds #Secret #ICAC #recordings #including #Opposition #leader #Gary #Higgins #inappropriate #illegal #Inspector #finds #englishheadline


“Clandestine” recordings made by the Northern Territory’s anti-corruption watchdog were clearly inappropriate, if not illegal, according to the ICAC Inspector.

In April, Englishheadline Australia revealed former Opposition Leader Gary Higgins had been secretly recorded by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2020 after he was asked to provide some background information on a matter under investigation.

In his annual report tabled in the Northern Territory Parliament, ICAC Inspector Bruce McClintock SC reveals this was one of seven conversations secretly recorded by the anti-corruption watchdog during the tenure of former commissioner Ken Fleming KC.

Another involved Darwin businesswoman Anya Lorimer who was asked to meet with an ICAC investigator for an informal discussion at Ray’s Café in the city’s CBD.

The investigator wore a wire to record the conversation while another ICAC staff member listened in from a vehicle parked outside the café.

The conversation was also listened to by ICAC staff in the watchdog’s Cavenagh St office.

Mr McClintock said this incident appeared to be a prima facie breach of Section 11 of the Surveillance Devices Act, which prohibits third parties from listening in to recorded conversations without the permission of those present.

The act would only be lawful if the ICAC officers “reasonably believed it was necessary to monitor the conversation for the protection of someone’s safety”.

“That is an issue I am unable to determine, because it involves questions of the state of mind of the relevant ICAC staff at the time the conversations were monitored and I have no power under the ICAC Act to compel such persons to respond to any enquiries which I might make which, in any event, they could decline to answer on the grounds of privilege against self-incrimination even if I had such power,” Mr McClintock writes in his report.

Mr McClintock also noted that all of the people involved in the secret recordings had since left the ICAC.  Former commissioner Ken Fleming KC retired last July.

The secret recordings were subsequently discovered by his successor Michael Riches, who informed Mr McClintock about the “inappropriate” conduct.

This week Englishheadline revealed the ICAC’s deputy chief executive officer Matthew Grant – who was directly involved in the secret recording of Mr Higgins – had left the organisation.

Mr Riches would not say if Mr Grant left voluntarily or if his position had been terminated.  Mr Grant has not responded to requests for comment.

Mr Grant had sent Mr Higgins a text message in 2020 asking him to come into the ICAC’s office for an informal conversation

“Hi Gary.  Please call Matt Grant at the ICAC,” his message said.

“The Commissioner is seeking historic information from a truthful source and unfortunately due to your age and your inherent character you satisfy both criteria.  Regards Matt.”

Mr Higgins – who was not under investigation – attended a subsequent meeting with Mr Grant and Mr Fleming.

Two years later, Mr Riches informed him the conversation had been covertly recorded.

Mr Riches informed Mr McClintock of the secret recordings in a series of emails sent between January and March this year.

On March 15, Mr McClintock responded saying:

“I am extremely concerned by the matters you have disclosed to me, first, because of the possibility of non-compliance with section 11 (1) of the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NT) and, secondly, because I consider it inappropriate and unfair for an integrity agency such as the Office of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption to engage in such conduct.”

Mr McClintock wrote in his response to Mr Riches that he was considering conducting his own investigation into the matter.   

If he did so, he said he would like to make recommendations including the “adoption of appropriate training for employees in relation to such matters so that they understand what is lawful and what is not”.

Mr Riches replied saying he had already implemented procedures to prevent future clandestine recordings.

He said all listening devices owned by the ICAC had been put in a safe and could only be accessed by him and the Director of Investigations.

Mr Riches said in future any secret recording would require a warrant, or written permission from the Commissioner.

He said he would inform the Inspector within five days of giving any such approval and provide a copy of his reasons for doing so.

Mr Riches said staff would also be trained in respect of the Surveillance Devices Act.

Mr McClintock’s annual report found the ICAC’s performance in the 2021-22 financial year – under Mr Riches – had been “generally satisfactory”.

“It will be apparent from the views I have expressed above … that I take a different view about matters which occurred before the commencement of the present Commissioner’s term of office,” he said.

English Headline

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