CANBERRA -- Moves by Premier Mike Baird to overhaul the make up of the NSW corruption watchdog are "scandalous" and risk being perceived as corrupt, former commissioners of the agency say.
Baird on Tuesday introduced a bill to overhaul the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which will see it shift to a three-commissioner model and remove ICAC's extraordinary power to conduct public inquiries away from the current sole commissioner Megan Latham.
Former assistant commissioner to ICAC, Anthony Whealy, told the ABC there was a perception of payback in the community.
"If it happened in a third world country, we would say these are the actions of a corrupt government," he said on Wednesday.
"Now, I don't think Mr Baird is corrupt but I think the perception that he's paying her back for some kind of attack on the Liberal Party will be very apparent to the community."
The independent statutory body has investigated public officials and politicians from all sides of politics since 1989, including disgraced Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and Liberal Premiers such as Barry O'Farrell, who was forced to resign over a "massive memory fail".
ICAC's Operation Spicer investigated Liberal party fundraising ahead of the the 2011 state election.
Former commissioner David Ipp described the move as "scandalous".
"It's outrageous and shameful. This is a means of dampening down the ICAC and removing its powers," he told the ABC.
"I don't accept for one moment it makes a stronger ICAC. I think it will be much weaker and will make it much more difficult to operate.
"There will be an inability for it to make quick, strong decisions and there's simply no need for it, the ICAC has never been stronger."
NSW Govt. to sack ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham in victory for Rum Corp culture. ICAC got too close to slush fund political corruption.— Quentin Dempster (@QuentinDempster) November 15, 2016
Promising a "stronger and fairer anti-corruption watchdog", the Baird ordered the radical overhaul of the ICAC in response to a parliamentary committee report into on the agency.
Under the changes, there'll be a chief commissioner who must agree with at least one other commissioner before a public inquiry can be held.
A CEO will also be appointed to manage ICAC's day-to-day operations.
Baird insists Commissioner Latham will be invited to apply for one of the three new commissioner positions, despite her contract not expiring until 2019.
Baird said the changes were not about diluting ICAC's powers, but designed to provide additional safeguards.
"When you have those sorts of powers and you exercise those sorts of powers, the question is do you have the appropriate safeguards," he said, adding that asking Ms Latham to reapply for her job was "an incredibly normal thing in any restructure in any organisation anywhere".
"Obviously we'd be very happy for the commissioner to apply."
NSW Labor is insisting Latham be guaranteed one of the three positions and be given veto rights over the appointments of the other two commissioners.
The latest political stoush comes after Premier Baird lost his deputy, former Nationals Leader Troy Grant, to a leadership spill following the Nats' drubbing in the the Orange by-election.