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ICAC funding should be impartial: audit

NSW Labor are calling on the state government to support audit recommendations for the corruption watchdog to be independently funded.

NSW Auditor-General Margaret Crawford found the current approach to annual funding of integrity agencies, including the Independent Commission Against Corruption, threatened their “independent status”.

The audit, released on Tuesday, included the NSW Electoral Commission, the NSW Ombudsman, and the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.

It also found circumstances could arise in which the premier could restrict funding to integrity agencies in “budget savings and reform measures”.

It comes a week after Premier Gladys Berejiklian revealed at an ICAC inquiry that she had been in a secret and “close personal relationship” with disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.

Labor leader Jodi McKay said it was vital that funding for integrity agencies was independent of government officials it may be investigating.

“They shouldn’t have to go cap in hand to ministers or agencies begging for money, when they may be investigating those same ministers or agencies,” Ms McKay told reporters.

She urged the premier to implement the report’s recommendations.

“We need to make sure we have the toughest integrity agencies in the country, and that can only happen when every single aspect of what they do is independent from the executive government and from the ministers involved.”

During question time on Tuesday Ms Berejiklian said ICAC funding had increased by 50 per cent under her leadership.

“I also want to say that in the last two financial years, supplementary funding was provided by $1.72 million and $1.68 million,” she said.

“Over the course of the next four years, the ICAC will get $104 million in funding and actually when we receive concerns about the level of funding for all our integrity agencies, this government referred it to the auditor-general.”

Ms McKay says Ms Berejiklian has rejected three funding requests from ICAC in five years, including during the investigation into Mr Maguire.

The public sector union said ICAC’s ability to investigate corruption had been hamstrung for years by budgetary pressures.

“Independent funding for ICAC means the corruption watchdog could get back to investigating wrongdoing, rather than trying to find annual budget savings,” the Public Service Association said in a statement.

In its 2018/2019 budget, ICAC lost $2.9 million, while the following year it was forced to find $4.7 million in savings, according to the PSA.

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