Barnaby Joyce condemns ‘Spanish Inquisition’ Icac, saying it makes MPs ‘terrified to do their job’ | Independent Commission Against Corruption

Barnaby Joyce has compared the New South Wales anti-corruption watchdog to the “Spanish Inquisition” and complained that it’s making politicians “terrified to do their job”.

The deputy prime minister’s comments on Monday are the latest in a series of attacks on the Independent Commission Against Corruption following the resignation of Gladys Berejiklian on Friday.

The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, on Sunday questioned whether Icac should be made to hold initial hearings “behind closed doors” while former federal attorney general Philip Ruddock said the commission should act more like a director of public prosecutions, working privately to initially establish whether a person has a case to answer.

Icac already has the power to conduct private examinations, which it regularly uses, including in Operation Keppel, the inquiry that is now examining Berejiklian.

Joyce appeared on Channel Seven on Monday morning and took a swipe at Icac, saying it was working “very, very badly”.

“This is not the great righteous process, it’s a little bit Spanish Inquisition. We elect politicians, not bureaucrats. People should be the final arbiter,” he said. “The bureaucracy reigns supreme here and politicians are basically terrified to do their job.”

Speaking on the same segment, Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon also criticised the Icac, describing it as a “failed experiment” and “kangaroo court”. Fitzgibbon’s party holds a policy position of establishing a federal anti-corruption commission that has the power to conduct public hearings.

Supporters of Icac says it draws significant strength from its ability to hold public hearings, which, apart from providing transparency, help to attract new witnesses and prompt additional lines of inquiry.

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, also says there was no compulsion on Berejiklian to resign. Indeed, she decided to stay in the job during the previous hearings of Icac, when wiretaps recorded conversations with her ex-partner, the former MP for Wagga Wagga, about his efforts to secure money from a land deal near the Western Sydney airport.

“She was not required to resign; she decided to resign,” Dreyfus said. “She could have decided not to do anything and toughed it out. Nothing in the legislation required her resignation.”

Former Icac assistant commissioner Anthony Whealy told the Guardian on Friday that part of Icac’s fearlessness was built on the fact that state governments had not sought to make wholesale legislative changes to weaken it following corruption scandals.

“I think that it’s a good thing that that hasn’t happened in NSW,” Whealy said.

Icac has routinely warned that its funding model leaves it open to political interference. The chief commissioner, Peter Hall, has repeatedly warned state parliament that Icac needs an independent funding model to prevent yearly budget cuts from hampering its investigative ability.

The criticism of Icac comes at a tumultuous time in NSW politics. Both Andrew Constance, a key moderate, and John Barilaro, the deputy premier, have announced they are quitting state politics. The former is running for the federal seat of Gilmore.

Barilaro said he quit to give the state the chance for a new beginning.

“I have decided now is the right time for me to hand the reins over to new leadership, and resign as deputy premier of NSW,” he said.

Barilaro and Berejiklian’s resignations will trigger byelections in Monaro and Willoughby.

Constance has committed to staying until the end of the parliamentary term.

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