Here we Joh again! Crime and corruption with Campbell Newman and Ken Levy

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For more than half of the term of Queensland’s Newman Government, its anti-corruption watchdog has been headed by a controversial figure who remains under investigation for a serious crime, writes barrister Alex McKean.

THE ACTING CHAIR of Queensland’s corruption watchdog, Dr Ken Levy, has just had his appointment extended yet again by Premier Campbell Newman. While the controversy continues to rage about the reasons for this most recent extension, it is worthwhile to consider the history of events leading up to the current impasse.

The Newman Government appointed Dr Ken Levy to the role of acting chair of the Crime and Misconduct Commission (‘CMC’) in May 2013, almost 18 months ago.

At that time, it was reported that Dr Levy had been pushed from official duties under the former Beattie Government, over his role in the bungled prosecution of Pauline Hanson for electoral fraud.

On 8 November 2013, Dr Levy’s appointment was then extended, shortly after he published an opinion piece in the Courier Mail supportive of the Government’s controversial crackdown on bikies.

Between when the piece was published and his term was extended, Dr Levy had been asked by the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee (PCMC) about contact he had with ‘anyone from government’ prior to writing his opinion piece. He denied the allegations absolutely.

This was the turning point in Dr Levy’s tenure.

Dr Levy could, at that point, have revealed all about his communications with Government heavyweights in the lead up to his article being published and their input into the article.

Taking that course could well have ended his term at the CMC. It would, however, have avoided the consequences which have attended the unraveling of his misleading answers to the PCMC.

Had Dr Levy fallen on his sword back in November 2013, Queenslanders would have avoided the spectacle of the head of the State’s most powerful anti-corruption body appearing to be both dishonest and too close to the government of the day. This same government has responded by taking unprecedented steps to ensure Dr Levy’s tenure has continued.

Almost immediately, Dr Levy began to backtrack from his blanket denial.

A week later, he told the PCMC he had spoken to Mr Lee Anderson, the Premier’s chief media adviser, on the telephone on several occasions prior to writing his opinion piece.

The real bombshell was dropped by Mr Anderson himself, when he gave evidence to the PCMC on 18 November 2013. Mr Anderson revealed that he and Dr Levy had had a ‘sit-down chat’, in the Premier’s offices on ‘Level 15’ of the executive building, just a few days before the opinion piece was published.

If Mr Anderson’s recollection is accurate, any and all conclusions drawn about Dr Levy’s actions cause concern.

He has either been misleading in his former evidence about having no contact with ‘anyone from the government’ prior to writing his article, or he failed to appreciate that the chat with Mr Anderson met that description and should have been disclosed.

A person displaying either a willingness to deceive the PCMC, or such ignorance and naiveté, is unsuitable for the job.

The PCMC was prevented from confronting Dr Levy with Mr Anderson’s evidence when the premier took the unprecedented step of sacking the entire membership of the PCMC.

A Select Committee on Ethics (SCOE) was then constituted to investigate whether Dr Levy had misled the PCMC.

This body took six months and achieved precisely nothing — apart from dragging the Newman Government further into disrepute, when the Chair, Mr David Gibson, was forced to stand down because of allegations of theft during his time in the Army.

The SCOE then suspended its investigation of Dr Levy in May 2014, when the Labor Party referred Levy to the Police Commissioner, where the matter has languished for the past 6 months.

In the meantime, the Newman Government passed legislation extending Levy’s appointment past 22 May 2014, its normal expiry date. This was done by means of a ‘Dr Levy clause’ inserted into the legislation, which pulled the teeth of the watchdog and rebranded it the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).

The Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee (LACSC) ‒ the government-dominated body which considered that legislation ‒ suppressed my submission, which focused on Dr Levy’s conduct and recommended that his term not be extended.

A heavily redacted version of this submission was published on the LACSC website.

Earlier threats of contempt of Parliament proceedings, made by the chair of the LACSC, Mr Ian Berry, have now been withdrawn. No barrier apparently exists to publication in full.

Readers of the submission can make up their own minds about the extent to which the publicly available evidence suggests Dr Levy did mislead the PCMC. They can also assess the reasonableness of the claims made by the Police Commissioner, in August 2014, that the investigation was ‘complex’ and was progressing as quickly as possible.

Premier Newman performed a series of backflips after the LNP was thrashed in the Stafford by-election, promising that Dr Levy’s successor would be chosen on a bipartisan basis.

According to the premier, the term ‘bipartisan’ contemplates the situation where Cabinet approves a single candidate, two weeks short of the end of Dr Levy’s legislatively extended term, without any consultation with the Opposition or minor parties.

That single candidate was then presented to the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Commission (‘PCCC’) as a fait accomplit.

The Chair of the PCCC, Mr Steve Davies, commented in early October that the candidate, who was not named, was a “fantastic nomination”, adding that non-government MP’s on the PCCC

“… would be very hard pressed to actually not approve this person.”

When the non-government members did not endorse the candidate, the government had no choice, of course, but to further extend the term of Dr Levy, preserving the status quo.

If the Premier had truly turned over a new leaf since Stafford and wanted to restore the CCC back to a truly independent body in which the people of Queensland could have confidence, he could have engaged in a genuinely transparent and consultative process, avoiding the brinkmanship and further politicisation of the CCC.

For more than half of the term of the Newman Government, the anti-corruption watchdog has been headed by a controversial figure who remains under investigation for the serious crime of misleading a Committee of Parliament.

The people of Queensland deserve better.

The anti-corruption regime exists to protect the citizens from the depredations wrought formerly by widespread political and police corruption in this State and should not be used as a political football by any of the Parliamentary players.

You can read Alex McKean’s full and unredacted submission to the Queensland Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee here.

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