Gary Sturgess: "In Sturgess' view corruption in NSW was institutionalised and systemic and what was needed was a permanent organisation with royal commission powers in its DNA." Photo: Brendan Esposito
Gary Sturgess may not be a household name, but it should be. As the architect and father of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption his legacy has been longer lasting than he expected, or wanted.
I caught up with Sturgess this week and asked him whether his baby has fulfilled his expectations.
By now, he thought, "it really ought not to exist". It should have had such a marked effect on the culture of public life that no one would dare put a foot out of line.
He believes that for a time ICAC lost its way and after the fiasco of the Greiner affair it became risk averse.
"Clearly, Eddie Obeid or Ian Macdonald had no fear of ICAC. They seemed to operate with impunity."
The public hearings that have just concluded would have gone a long way to changing perceptions. Everyone in town is talking about the Obeid-Macdonald hearings and Sturgess thinks that has helped people to better appreciate the values that are required for public office. "It has been a useful outcome."
It was the Greiner government that gave birth to ICAC in 1989 and it was ICAC that destroyed the Greiner government three years later in 1992. Needless, to say there was a lot of pain in that for Sturgess. He was head of the Cabinet office at the time and in charge of all the big policy reforms.
The concept of a standing anti-corruption body was hatched while the Liberals were in Opposition and while the Wran government was in full-swing. There was lots of fertile material that fuelled the need, including the Rex Jackson affair (a minister accepting bribes for the early release of prisoners) The Age tapes and Lionel Murphy, chief magistrate Murray Farquhar and case fixing, and the Street Royal Commission, which cleared the then Premier of allegedly trying to influence the outcome of the prosecution of rugby league administrator Kevin Humphreys.
Intertwined through this was the on-going sleaze and corruption of Kings Cross with its drug lords and bent coppers.
In Sturgess' view corruption in NSW was institutionalised and systemic and what was needed was a permanent organisation with royal commission powers in its DNA to look at cases, causes and education.
Sturgess and then then attorney general John Dowd went to Hong Kong to look at the colony's Independent Commission Against Corruption. What they found was a truly terrifying body that had enormous powers and could lock-up people.
Sturgess' instincts in designing NSW's ICAC were different. His own background is that of a somewhat conservative civil libertarian.
At Queensland University law school he was influenced by Paul Finn, now a Federal Court judge, then a lecturer in equity who had a special interest in "public trust".
You can see Finn's presence in one of the essential provisions of the ICAC legislation, section 8 dealing with what constitutes "corrupt conduct": any conduct of a public official that "constitutes or involves a breach of public trust".
This was also the era of Ralph Nader, civil liberties and police brutality.
The famous Brisbane barrister Des Sturgess, a cousin of Gary's father and a leading campaigner against police verbals, became a significant mentor.
The young blade arrived in Sydney and a job at The Bulletin under the baton of Trevor Kennedy, where he found Bob Carr, Rob Drewe and David Armstrong also scribbling out stories. It was here that he got his first whiffs of police corruption in Sydney.
So all these threads came together in the design of ICAC. Wide definitions of "corruption" at the top, narrowed in the next breath to more specific details about criminality and disciplinary offences.
He didn't want a body that could invent offences after the event or one that intruded into political behaviour that was not inherently dishonest.
"While we may not like some political behaviour, if its purely political it ought to be judged by the electorate, not a lawyer or a judge making it up as they go along."
That is what precisely happened to Sturgess' boss, Premier Nick Greiner - who was implicated in a scheme to offer Terry Metherall, a former Liberal MP who became an Independent, a job at the Environment Protection Authority, and so free-up his seat for a winnable by-election.
The first ICAC commissioner, Ian Temby, a former Commonwealth DPP, found that Greiner's conduct did not constitute a criminal offence or bribery, yet was corrupt conduct as he knew Metherall was being favoured for the job and that it would be advantageous for the Liberal government.
This was politics and party politics at that, and the Court of Appeal overturned Temby's finding. By that stage, with a finding of corruption over his head, Greiner was gone as Premier. The idea that governments couldn't jockey to strengthen their position was not part of the original ICAC concept. This was stuff on which the voters should be making judgments.
According to Sturgess, the consequence of the Greiner case was a conservatism by politicians towards ICAC and what it should be allowed to investigate and a degree of risk averseness on the part of subsequent ICAC commissioners.
Consequently, for a time "corruption prevention struggled", which explains the audaciousness of the politicians currently under investigation.
Sturgess says: Corruption is behaviour between consenting adults, in secret. It's a crime of the powerful."
Because it's secret it's often difficult to get evidence and to prosecute successfully.
"What we have is a process of shame, exposure and cleansing. It's a morality play, to be played out in public."
This is a republished version of story which ran on May 23 2013.