Interest charge

Panton brushes off Bunting’s conflict of interest accusation | Main stories

Retired Judge Seymour Panton dismissed suggestions by former National Security Minister Peter Bunting that he had a conflict of interest involving the Integrity Commission’s (IC) special report on the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) published in March.

The report, which covered an IC investigation into questionable operations at the FLA, found that Bunting and another former National Security Minister, Robert Montague, issued firearms licenses to people with criminal traces.

Panton was the chairman of the FLA’s review committee when Montague was minister and is the current chairman of the IC, which conducted and reported on the inquiry between 2012 and 2018.

The report says Montague knowingly granted firearms licenses to six people with criminal records when he served in the portfolio from 2016 to 2018, while Bunting, who served as minister between 2012 and 2016, granted two-person firearms licenses of the same ilk.

Under section 37A(2) of the Firearms Act, the Review Board hears, receives and considers evidence in the case under review and submits to the Minister, for decision, a written report of its conclusions and recommendations.

“I am not aware that the review board I chair was involved in any of the cases mentioned. It was not shown to me,” Panton claimed in an email response to the gleaner Tuesday on the issue.

This follows questions raised by Bunting during last Wednesday’s session of the Joint Select Committee to review the Integrity Commission Act 2017, after IC Executive Director Greg Christie requested a additional disclosure of assets belonging to parliamentarians.

Bunting noted that the highest responsibility for disclosing “actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest” should apply to IC commissioners and senior staff.

“I can’t help but reflect on the omission in one of their recent reports where they did not mention any conflict of interest of any of the commissioners who had been active in any of the organizations they were looking at,” Bunting said.

Christie agreed that there should be full disclosure of IC members at all times, but noted that he was unaware of the report Bunting was referring to.

Bunting later revealed he was talking about the FLA report.

“In the specific appeal cases investigated in the report, why was there no mention of the review board’s recommendation to the minister? This would be important in determining the appropriateness of the exercise of ministerial authority, but it was entirely excluded from the investigation report,” he argued, referring to any recommendations made to Montague in the six cases.

However, Panton argued that Bunting, Senate Opposition Business Leader, was looking to “muddy the waters and deflect.”

The retired judge pointed out that the review board is responsible for reviewing firearms license denials and revocations. In cases where there is a request for review, the board considers all relevant circumstances and makes a recommendation to the minister, who “may or may not accept” that suggestion, Panton said.

Furthermore, he said that regarding the IC investigation into the FLA, he did not participate in the discussions.

He also said that nothing had been done by the review board that was in question.

“My appointment as Chairman of the Firearms Review Board has been made public. It’s not a secret. I had nothing to disclose. There was no conflict of interest.

“I think Senator Bunting would be best advised to focus on the recommendations made by the Integrity Commission and decide whether or not to accept them,” Panton said.

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