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Qld transparency fight set for High Court

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Queensland’s corruption watchdog will take its fight against being gagged by people it’s investigating to Australia’s highest court.

The Crime and Corruption Commission wants the High Court to overturn a decision that suppresses its report on graft allegations involving former public trustee Peter Carne.

CCC chair Bruce Barbour says that case sets a concerning precedent for transparency, so an appeal must be lodged.

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“If the current decision were to stand, then there would definitely be concern … of what we would be able to do in the future in terms of being open and transparent about our investigations, and what we conclude in relation to the investigations,” he told a parliamentary committee on Friday.

Mr Carne was suspended in 2019 when the CCC started investigating him and later resigned.

The watchdog handed its report to the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee, asking them to give it to the Speaker.

Tabling reports gives the CCC parliamentary privilege, protecting it from defamation actions.

But Mr Carne took the watchdog to the Supreme Court, arguing that the report’s publication would breach his human rights and deny him procedural fairness.

He lost the case in September 2021, but later appealed and two of the three appeal judges ruled in Carne’s favour on August 5.

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Mr Barbour said his agency is trying to work out if that decision prevents it from publishing reports.

“There are a whole range of elements that are enlivened, if you like, by the decision in calm,” he said.

“What we need to do as an organisation is look at our work practices, look at what we’ve understood to be appropriate practice, and consider whether or not the (Carne) decision relates to those or not.”

The ruling would “certainly” limit what the CCC could say about investigations in press releases and statements, he said.

Mr Barbour said publishing reports not only corrected the public record, but educated people about corruption and the CCC’s role.

“So clearly, there are very significant ramifications, and that decision (Carne) is inconsistent with the way we and our predecessors have practised business in the corruption area for a long time,” the CCC chair said.

“That’s why it’s important for us to seek a review.”

When asked if changing Queensland laws would be a quicker solution than a High Court appeal, he said that could potentially jeopardise the release of information about current CCC probes.

Mr Barbour said he believed existing laws allowed the watchdog to publish anyway.

“The appropriate course is to have the existing legislation reviewed and supported if that’s the case,” he added.

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The decision to appeal comes as the CCC fights a costly legal bid against the suppression of its report into claims former treasurer Jackie Trad’s interfered in the recruitment of under-treasurer Frankie Carroll in 2019.

Shadow attorney-general Tim Nicholls said the appeal was vital to ensure the watchdog wasn’t “muzzled in doing its duty and more secrets aren’t swept under the carpet”.

“This decision has far reaching implications for the fundamental democratic principles of openness and transparency in government and for parliamentary privilege,” he said in a statement.

“Both are at the heart of our democracy.”

– AAP

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