Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) | Armstrong Legal

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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)


The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is a statutory body set up to combat and reduce corruption in the public sector in New South Wales. Its functions and powers are set out in the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988.

ICAC’s role specifically is to investigate, expose and prevent corruption involving and affecting public authorities and officers, and to educate the public about corruption and its detrimental effects on public administration. Protecting the public interest and preventing breaches of public trust are its paramount concerns.

Corrupt conduct

Under the Act, corrupt conduct is categorised in several ways.

It is any conduct:

  • of any person that adversely affects the honest performance of a public officer or public body;
  • of a public officer or public body that constitutes or involves dishonesty;
  • of a public officer or public body that constitutes or involves knowingly or recklessly breaching public trust;
  • that involves the misuse of information or material;

It is also any conduct of any person (whether or not a public official) that adversely affects, or could adversely affect, either directly or indirectly, public administration. This can include bribery, blackmail, theft, fraud, perverting the course of justice, embezzlement, election bribery, tax evasion, drug dealing, forgery, illegal gambling, and treason.

It is also any conduct of any person (whether or not a public official) that impairs or could impair public confidence in public administration. This can include collusive tendering; fraud in relation to licences, permits and other authorities designed to protect health and safety, the environment or resources; dishonestly obtaining or benefitting from public funds or public assets; defrauding public revenue; and fraudulently obtaining or retaining employment as a public official.

It includes a conspiracy or attempt to commit or engage in corrupt conduct.

ICAC investigations

The legislation confers special powers on ICAC to investigate corruption and requires it to focus on serious and systemic corrupt conduct. ICAC can investigate any allegation or complaint of corrupt conduct; conduct that allows, encourages or causes corrupt conduct; and conduct connected with corrupt conduct. It can conduct an investigation on its own initiative or on a complaint, report or referral to it.

ICAC investigations determine whether corrupt conduct has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur; whether any laws need to be changed to reduce the likelihood of corrupt conduct; whether any methods of work, practices or procedures of any public authority or official did or could allow corrupt conduct. It can then make findings or recommendations, such as that the Department of Public Prosecutions should lay criminal charges. It can gather and assemble evidence for the prosecution.

For investigations, ICAC can co-operate with other law enforcement agencies including the Australian Federal Police, Electoral Commission, the Australian Criminal Intelligence  Commission and the NSW Ombudsman. It also has the power to set up task forces within the state, and joint task forces with the Commonwealth or other states and territories. If it obtain evidence of offending against a law of the Commonwealth or another state or territory, it can hand over that evidence to authorities in that jurisdiction.

ICAC can conduct public inquiries into a matter if it is satisfied this is in the public interest. In considering whether an inquiry should be public, ICAC must consider factors such as the benefit of exposing the corrupt conduct, the seriousness of the allegation, and any risk of undue prejudice to a person’s reputation.

ICAC investigation powers

ICAC has a range of investigative powers and is not bound by the rules of evidence.

For example, it can issue a witness summons which requires a person to attend a specified time and place on a specified date to produce documents or other things to the inquiry. If a summoned witness fails to appear, an arrest warrant can be issued.

ICAC also has the power to order a public authority or official to produce information, documents or other things, and to enter and inspect, at any time, any premises occupied by a public authority or official. It can also apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction to prevent a person from engaging in conduct that affects an investigation.

Other ICAC functions

Under the Act, ICAC’s principal function is to investigate corrupt conduct and report the result to appropriate authorities. Its other functions include to:

  • examine and revise laws policies and procedures of public authorities and officials designed to uncover corrupt conduct and methods of work or procedures which may be conducive to corrupt conduct;
  • advise and help public authorities and officials to eliminate corrupt conduct and promote the good reputation and integrity of public administration;
  • to educate public authorities and officials and the general public on the detrimental effects of corrupt conduct and the importance of maintaining the integrity of public administration;
  • to enlist and foster public support to combat corrupt conduct;
  • to develop, arrange, supervise, participate in or conduct anti-corruption education programs.

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