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Corruption watchdog to get $100m funding boost in state budget

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The corruption watchdog will receive an extra $106 million in next month's state budget after funding cuts forced it to slash the number of investigative units and axe investigators.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) will receive a funding boost of $27 million in the next financial year, and a total of $106 million over four years.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says NSW is committed to a "strong and fair ICAC".

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says NSW is committed to a “strong and fair ICAC”.

Photo: Cole Bennetts

It comes after the ICAC revealed to a parliamentary inquiry that a funding cut of $800,000 in last year's budget had forced it to hire temporary investigators to meet demand.

It also reduced the number of investigative units from four to three and axed six full-time investigators.

ICAC's annual report showed a fall in an operating grant from the Department of Premier and Cabinet from $1.34 million in 2015-16 to $529,000 last financial year.

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In 2016, the ICAC also warned that it had been plunged into a "funding crisis" and said it would have to shed 15 per cent of its staff in order to deal with shortfall.

But the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the government was committed to a "strong and fair ICAC" and the record funding would enhance the watchdog's work.

“Under the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government, the ICAC will always be fully empowered and funded to investigate, expose and prevent corruption," Ms Berejiklian said.

“This funding builds on recent reforms to modernise and strengthen the ICAC.”

The state government restructured the ICAC in 2016 but the reforms were controversial, and resulted in the single commissioner model replaced by one with a chief commissioner and two part-time commissioners.

Under the change, the inaugural chief commissioner, Peter Hall, QC, and one commissioner must agree before public hearings can be held.

Patricia McDonald SC and Stephen Rushton SC were appointed as commissioners and Bruce McClintock SC was appointed inspector of the ICAC.

The ICAC chief commissioner Peter Hall.

The ICAC chief commissioner Peter Hall.

Photo: Janie Barrett

Former commissioner Megan Latham resigned after being told she would have to reapply for her job after legislation for the restructure passed parliament in November 2016.

The move led former assistant ICAC commissioner Anthony Whealy to warn corruption fighting in NSW "has been set back for years".

As part of the reforms, the ICAC and its inspector must give people a reasonable opportunity to respond before an adverse finding is made in a report.

The ICAC can also gather evidence that may be admissible in a criminal prosecution after the completion of its investigations.

Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor and a former Education Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald

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