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Watching the watchdog: Six months for CCC chair to prove his worth

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With a major review and now a targeted probe into the Crime and Corruption Commission, embattled chairman Alan MacSporran is fighting to keep his $540,000-a-year job.

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The Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee has released the wide-ranging terms of reference for its inquiry into a CCC investigation that toppled an entire, elected council, undermining the sixth largest local government in Australia.

The Palaszczuk government was forced to sack the Logan City Council two years ago after the CCC investigation led to fraud charges against seven councillors and mayor Luke Smith.

However, prosecutors dropped the charges in April, with only Smith now facing trial. The other former councillors have since threatened legal action, and there are calls for MacSporran to lose his job.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had argued that any issues with the case could be examined by the PCCC as part of its routine review of the CCC, that will report by the end of June. Labor MPs on the committee blocked a previous bid to hold a stand-alone inquiry.

But after a formal complaint by the Local Government Association of Queensland, the PCCC announced late on Friday it would hold an inquiry – with both public and private hearings – and report back to parliament by the end of November.

That shines an even harsher spotlight on the agency that barrister MacSporran has headed since 2015.

As part of the review, MacSporran had advocated for senior CCC officials to be allowed to serve in their roles longer than the current 10-year maximum term. His initial five-year term was extended for three years and is due to end, or be extended again, on August 31, 2023.

But the coming months will be a major test for MacSporran, as he is confronted with the review recommendations and the fallout from the Logan investigation. Several current and former politicians have already called for him to stand aside.

The latest CCC annual report shows MacSporran was paid $538,000 in 2019-20, which included a jurisprudential allowance, office allowance and vehicle allowance. The report noted that the chairman was “not eligible for a performance bonus”.

In a 28-page complaint to the PCCC, the LGAQ accused the CCC of not only bungling the Logan investigation but interfering in a related matter before the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.

“Aside from the impact this case has had on the voters of Logan City and the former councillors involved, it has also served to damage the reputation of the Council, the local government sector as a whole, and the reputation of the CCC itself,” the LGAQ argued.

“It has also served to further discourage good people from seeking election to represent their communities for fear they too could have their reputations and livelihoods ruined on the basis of a wholly false allegation and a flawed investigation.”

In April, MacSporran dismissed the need for an inquiry. In a statement, he emphasised that the CCC left it to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to prosecute, which it did, only to then discontinue at the committal stage.

“The CCC, as it must, accepts the decision of the independent prosecutor in these matters,” MacSporran said at the time.

“In light of the above, it is difficult to see how it could be reasonably suggested there should be an inquiry into the CCC’s conduct.”

Critics have suggested the CCC should not have made the decision on charging the councillors. However, the barrister who assists the PCCC, Karen Carmody, recently said it was not unheard of for prosecutions to be discontinued in complex cases.

MacSporran joined the bar in 1978, was government counsel at the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry and ran the independent review into the Queensland Greyhound Racing Industry. He took over the CCC after a period of instability, and has led it during several investigations of Palaszczuk Government ministers and staff, as well as other public sector matters.

The Clerk of the Queensland Parliament, Neil Laurie, recently called for a stronger, independent watchdog, warning that “some of the wider safeguards that existed prior to and immediately after the Fitzgerald inquiry and report have now been fatally weakened”.

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