The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity’s public hearings into an allegedly corrupt relationship between Crown casinos and parts of the Department of Home Affairs have been put on hold indefinitely.
The first ever public ACLEI hearings since the agency’s establishment in 2006 were to begin on Tuesday with three witnesses: former Australian Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, current ABF deputy commissioner Mandy Newton and Home Affairs first assistant secretary Peta Dunn.
But on Monday, the agency announced it had called the hearings off and would reschedule them. Over the weekend the availability of one important witness was put into doubt “due to unforeseen personal circumstances” while several new “key witnesses” had come forward with new information, according to ACLEI.
One of the key reasons that public hearings are such an effective way of investigating corruption is they typically generate far more media coverage than closed inquiries, for obvious reasons, and often lead to more witnesses coming out of the woodwork. In this case, it appears the mere reporting of upcoming public hearings has flushed out people with something important to add to the proceedings.
Dunn is in charge of immigration programs at Home Affairs and Newton is the deputy commissioner for ABF operations. “Mandy is responsible for providing high-level strategic direction across all operational activities around the border,” according to her official profile. “This includes the management of travellers, goods and cargo, as well as enforcement and maritime operations.”
Based on Quaedvlieg’s appearance on Nine’s 60 Minutes earlier this year, his testimony is likely to cover his experience as a senior officer in the Australian Federal Police working against money laundering and cross-border crime, before he took on a senior role with the former customs service and later became the inaugural ABF commissioner.
The original plan was to have three days of public hearings this week at the Victorian County Court in Melbourne with the option for a fourth day.
“ACLEI will make an announcement about the new dates for public hearings in the near future,” the investigative agency said on Monday.
The thrust of the allegations, which have been reported jointly by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes, is that Crown has enjoyed improper assistance and special arrangements from elected officials and agencies of state and federal governments, allowing it to quickly and quietly ferry people of unsavoury character in and out of the country to gamble large sums of cash at its venues.
The company’s board of directors angrily denied the allegations, calling them a “deceitful campaign” in a message they paid to publish in several newspapers.
The reporters hit back in a detailed response to Crown’s rebuttal, and the Attorney-General Christian Porter said there were “sufficient concerns raised at least to warrant further investigations” in his view, while rejecting calls for a parliamentary inquiry.
“I would also note that if ACLEI uncovered conduct by any other public service officers outside those determined in its remit as law enforcement officers or indeed civilians or employees of a commercial organisation who do not fall within ACLEI’s jurisdiction, ACLEI can of course refer that information, and further allegations, to the AFP for further investigation,” Porter said in June.