Combative Chris Hartcher pushes his luck in ICAC witness box

The question of whether former energy minister Chris Hartcher has acted improperly remains unresolved, but his turn in the witness box at the Independent Commission Against Corruption showed his political skills are beyond doubt.

Having resigned from cabinet in December and with his membership of the NSW Liberal Party suspended, Hartcher has languished on the crossbench in State Parliament as a detached observer this year.

On Monday he made up for lost time by bringing a dose of bearpit politics to the ICAC hearing room.

Hartcher attacked counsel assisting the ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, as he would a political opponent, despite being cornered in the witness box instead of strutting behind the dispatch box.

As he glared at Watson, Hartcher was careful to show deference to Commissioner Megan Latham in much the same way he would the parliamentary Speaker.

The commissioner is, after all, the one charged with making the ultimate finding about whether he has behaved corruptly.

It was a performance straight out of the instruction manual for parliamentary hand-to-hand combat: dodge the difficult questions - his tally of ''I can't recall'' and similar responses exceeded 35 during Watson's interrogation - and focus on discrediting your opponent.

But it was also a highly risky manoeuvre: he and his legal team would be well aware that the benefits of transplanting parliamentary politics to the ICAC arena are far from certain.

That they rolled the dice nonetheless might indicate just how desperate Hartcher has become as the evidence against him has mounted over preceding weeks.

Unfortunately for the combative former minister, in this instance his performance was not for the benefit of an easily engaged government backbench in pursuit of cheap political points.

Hartcher needed to use his time in the witness box to convince Latham of the truthfulness of his answers and hence his innocence.

Turning her hearing room into a poor imitation of question time is unlikely to have helped achieve that.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop