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New South Wales: Court of Appeal overturns ICAC finding of corruption against former Premier Nick Greiner; discussion on how the ICAC Act needs to be changed

ELLEN FANNING: Two months after Nick Greiner buckled under the weight of a corruption finding against him, the State's Court of Appeal has cleared his name. The former Premier became the victim of his own anti-corruption watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, during its investigation of the so-called 'Metherell affair'. The ICAC itself says the Court's decision has effectively placed Ministers of the Crown in a special class of their own. ICAC chief, Ian Temby, QC, wants that remedied. And Michael Brissenden reports that's raised questions about how much power the Commission should have.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The whole political crisis in New South Wales has been packed full of ironies since it began. Perhaps the most blatantly obvious is that the New South Wales Corruption Commission claimed its creator as it most celebrated victim. Today's Appeal Court decision has come too late for Nick Greiner. Despite his desperate attempts to hold onto power in the days following the ICAC verdict, his political career is now history; but he says today's ruling at least clears his name.

NICK GREINER: Let me say, I'm delighted by the Court's finding, but ultimately all the Court has done is decide in legal terms what public opinion and commonsense decided two months ago, and that is, of course, that the initial finding by Mr Temby was absolutely wrong, that any suggestion of corrupt conduct on my part or Mr Moore's part was totally and totally nonsensical.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The timing of the Appeal Court's decision is a fitting postscript to a political crisis firmly planted in the finer traditions of a classical Greek tragedy. Tomorrow, voters in the Sydney seats of Ku-ring-gai and Gordon will elect parliamentary replacements for both Nick Greiner and Tim Moore - his Environment Minister who, through his role as the architect of the Metherell appointment, became the other high-profile casualty of the ICAC's findings.

This afternoon, Mr Moore claimed he harboured no bitterness. The other players in the saga, he said, including the three Independents - the catalysts of his political demise -would have to look to their own conscience for judgment.

TIM MOORE: Now, for me and for my wife - and I'm sure for Nick and Catherine - is a time to feel happy and confident for the future. Others have to grapple with their consciences; others across a very wide spectrum have to grapple with their consciences. Certainly the personal support I got for me and my .. from my colleagues was very strong and has always been personally supportive; and, indeed, the hundreds of letters and phone calls that I got from people I'd never met before has been of great comfort to me during the last six weeks or so.

REPORTER: Do you think the Independents acted too quickly, Mr Moore, in retrospect?

TIM MOORE: Oh well, the Premier .. the former Premier and I always argued that we should have been allowed a trial before we were hung, but that's a matter for the Independents to judge on their own consciences. I haven't been judgmental. I don't propose to be judgmental. It would be out of character to be judgmental.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But today's ruling that the determination by the ICAC that Greiner and Moore had engaged in corrupt conduct within the meaning of the ICAC Act was made without or in excess of jurisdiction, and that the determination was wrong in law must certainly cast some doubts on future ICAC rulings. It's a finding that has left Commissioner Ian Temby searching for answers to some fundamental questions about the organisation he heads and about the Act that governs its investigations.

But it's obvious that everyone, including Commissioner Temby, now agrees that the ICAC Act as it stands needs to be improved.

IAN TEMBY: As I read the majority decisions, they place Ministers in a specially privileged class, as opposed to all others in the public sector. If that's right, and I've only read them once, but it seems to be right, that's a matter which is quite serious. I'd remind you that when the matter was going through Parliament, the clearly stated intention was that all in the public sector would be in the same position. For example, Mr Greiner, speaking on 26 May, said that the term 'public official' was defined in the Act to include Members of Parliament, the Governor, judges, Ministers - all holders of public offices and so on. He said there are no exceptions and there are no exemptions.

And the then Attorney-General, speaking in the Parliament on behalf of Mr Greiner a week later, said that the ICAC would have jurisdiction over the judiciary in the same way as it would have jurisdiction over Ministers of the Crown, Members of Parliament and all other public officials. They were all put in the same category. He later said that it was made abundantly clear in this legislation that everyone in public life is the same before the law. This decision seems at first glance to place that proposition in some doubt, and that's a matter which is going to require consideration by the people and by Parliament in due course of time.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Commissioner Temby says the Court's decision is regretful, and hasn't ruled out a High Court challenge to today's verdict. However, today's decision has delivered what was more than likely the final ironic twist in the whole affair. At the end of it all, counsel for Nick Greiner succeeded in convincing the Appeal Court that his own Act was flawed.