Corruption and Crime Commission

The entrance to the CCC

The Corruption and Crime Commission is a permanent investigative commission established by the Government of Western Australia in 2003, largely as a result of the findings of a Royal Commission into the state's police service. Its role is to investigate public corruption. It is Western Australia's most elite law enforcement agency with exclusive coercive powers which allow investigative techniques such as phone tapping, covert surveillance, compulsory testifying of witnesses and the seizure of documents. The CCC has picked up a number of cases that have been previously dropped by the WA Police Internal Affairs Unit and charged police officers who are found to be breaking the law in the performance of their jobs.

CCC and journalists

The Commission was criticised in 2007 when it emerged it had secretly interrogated a number of Perth journalists. In 2006/2007 the Commission held 40.5 days of open hearings and 22 days of secret hearings[1].

The journalists were threatened with “fine and lengthy imprisonment”[2] if they told anyone about their attendance. Under Commission law, witnesses can be fined $60,000 and imprisoned for three years if they disclose their attendance or discuss it with others.

The journalists were ABC TV’s Sue Short, Channel 9’s David Cooper, Channel 7’s Gary Adshead and The West Australian’s Robert Taylor.

Short and Cooper appeared before the Commission on 26 June over “…identifying the person or persons who on or about 12 May 2006 provided information and/or assisted her (Short) in identifying the new suspect for the murder of Pamela Lawrence as being in custody for another homicide”,[2]; Adshead and Taylor were two of 21 witnesses who appeared before the Parliamentary Inspector of the Commission, Malcolm McCusker, in late June and early July when he investigated the leaking of a Commission document to Parliament on former Labor MP John D'Orazio [3]

The journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, described the secret hearings as “insidious and sinister”.

“We are bringing it to public attention because we are deeply disturbed by its impact on the practice of journalism,” Alliance WA Branch Secretary Michael Sinclair-Jones was quoted in The Australian on Thursday 8 November. He said the hearing had the characteristics of a star chamber, with interrogations and investigations held in secret and people who were unwilling to testify threatened with severe penalties. “These journalists could not tell their families, their boss, their union…it’s police state stuff. “The blanket suppression of free speech at secret hearings that nobody is allowed to know even occurred is deeply troubling. But we are even more concerned that journalists are being secretly threatened with long jail sentences and massive fines for protecting confidential sources. “Such inquisitorial powers would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. Press freedom and democracy will inevitably suffer if the secret state powers are used to intimidate journalists and crush leaks.”

The last Perth journalist to be imprisoned for contempt was The Sunday Times’ Tony Barrass in December 1989: he was imprisoned for the maximum seven days and fined the maximum of $175.

In November, Robert Taylor was named in the WA Parliament as the recipient of more unauthorised “privileged” information, prompting a new Parliamentary investigation.

References

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