When I heard about these laws, ICACed myself

Some good stories have come out of the ABC's Four Corners program.

Last month it was the Murray-Darling Basin stuff, now being investigated by New South Wales' Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

On Monday night were allegations of rubbish being buried illegally or transported from NSW to Queensland to avoid taxes.

This week's program drew heavily on evidence tendered to the ICAC: recordings of phone calls, letters, that sort of thing.

We would do that sort of reporting here, but unfortunately that's impossible.

Let me introduce you to section 56 of our state's Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 2012: "a person must not, except as authorised by the commissioner or a court ... publish ..." basically anything about a matter being dealt with by the ICAC.

If a person "is, has been, may be or may have been" reported to the ICAC, we cannot write about it. If a person has made a report to the ICAC, or "may be" about to do so, we cannot write about it or identify them. Even a story "tending to suggest" the ICAC might get involved could get us into trouble.

The penalty: $30,000 for a journalist and $150,000 for your local newspaper.

(We would not have any secret recordings to write about in the first place, because recording a phone call is illegal in SA, too.)

As soon as someone says the magic word, ICAC, we have to drop any story like it's hot.

The only way we can report on an ICAC investigation is if the commissioner himself chooses to release information afterwards.

We cannot fault the Commissioner or the ICAC, as both do vitally important work under serious pressure from powerful people.

But the law that governs the ICAC in South Australia is bad and needs to change.

The Liberal Party will do it if elected to government in March next year.

But until any changes go through Parliament, that's about all we can say.

Peri Strathearn


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