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Attorney-General Brad Hazzard has declared that criminal prosecutions must flow from corruption findings as crooked former Labor kingpin Eddie Obeid "arrogantly" claimed he was unlikely to face charges.
Mr Hazzard said on Friday that "the community may lose confidence" in the Independent Commission Against Corruption unless criminal prosecutions followed its recommendations.
The government was determined to ensure charges were laid and he had made it a "high priority" to work with the ICAC and the Director of Public Prosecutions to address any shortcomings in the system.
"The Premier Mike Baird and the government are keen to see that everything is done, all resources that are required, all processes that are required are done or are given to ensure we can move forward with prosecutions," Mr Hazzard told ABC radio.
"We do have concerns because there is community expectation. In a legal sense, if prosecutions are recommended, prosecutions should flow."
The Independent Commission Against Corruption found on Thursday that Mr Obeid and his former political ally, Joe Tripodi, acted corruptly over the Obeid family's secret business interests at Circular Quay. It also found Mr Obeid corruptly lobbied colleagues and public officials to favour his family's interests in two other business ventures, including water licences over his Bylong Valley farm.
Assistant Commissioner Anthony Whealy, QC, found the "unpleasant reality" was that Mr Obeid was motivated by the "grubby pursuit of improving his family's financial position" and recommended the DPP consider charging him with the offence of misconduct in public office. The three fresh corruption findings against the former Labor kingpin bring the total number of findings against him to four.
Mr Obeid said on Friday he had legal advice the DPP "would not lay and charges" and his changes of being prosecuted were "1 per cent".
Mr Hazzard said: "The fact that a major player yesterday could come out and so arrogantly respond that he had little chance of being prosecuted - well, the government has news for him and it has news for anybody.
"It doesn't matter what your political background, how wealthy, how poor, we are determined that the ICAC will actually see prosecutions. We want the system to be improved to the point where those prosecutions do flow and people have a real fear that they will in fact be criminally charged and found guilty if it's appropriate."
Mr Hazzard said he was looking at the issue of prosecutions following ICAC recommendations.
"I'm limited in what I can say in some regards but I can say it's a very high priority - because it doesn't matter where the individuals come from before ICAC, if there are recommendations for prosecution, then the prosecutions should proceed," he said.
He said one of the challenges in bringing prosecutions following corruption inquiries was that "very often" evidence before the ICAC was not admissible in criminal proceedings.
"There's also an issue, I think, around perhaps the processes at the commencement of the ICAC hearings and just how that works in terms of, are they gathering evidence that can be used in a criminal proceeding. Those are all issues that I as the new Attorney-General will be working through with ICAC, with the DPP and with the entire system - but the government is determined."
He said Premier Mike Baird had "told me very clearly, 'your job is to get there and try and work out how this can be done in an appropriate and proper way and address whatever shortcomings there are'. And ... there are clearly shortcomings.
"The [fact that the] community may lose confidence in ICAC, may lose confidence in the legal system, is a huge issue, it's a challenge. We need to make sure that the community has absolutely every faith in our system."
Former Federal Court judge Roger Gyles, QC, the chair of Transparency International Australia and the head of previous commissions of inquiry, told the ABC that the ICAC was not a prosecuting authority and "the shining of light can often be its own disinfectant".
"However, where criminal activities are exposed, there is an expectation that there will be an appropriate follow-up. Indeed, ICAC itself doesn't recommend prosecution, except in cases where it at least thinks it is an appropriate case to do so.
"It is those recommendations which do not appear to have been picked up. We can't tell what's happening because there's no statement by anybody about it, no explanation, and that's a matter of concern.
"I think one would have to say that unless there is some observable follow-up to these things, the public will become very cynical."
The story Brad Hazzard says criminal charges must flow from ICAC findings first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.