December 6, 2012  |  Second reading speech

Integrity and Accountability Legislation Amendment Bill 2012

It  is nice to follow the member for Hastings. I  rise to speak on the Integrity and Accountability Legislation Amendment Bill 2012.

The member for Hastings raised the Ombudsman, and I will get to that myself in a second, but I will  just talk about what the  bill will do. It is comprehensive. The bill will complete  the legacy of arrangements for Victoria’s new  integrity regime.  It  will transition the  Office  of Police  Integrity  and  the special investigations  monitor   into   the   Independent  Broad-based  Anti-corruption Commission,  and   it  will   incorporate   IBAC  into   the  Telecommunications (Interception) (State Provisions) Act 1988.

It will specify that IBAC  may  investigate only serious corrupt conduct and the conduct  of  sworn and  unsworn  members of  Victoria  Police.  It will  provide procedural  fairness amendments to the operations  of  the  Auditor-General  and Ombudsman.  It will  establish  the mandatory  duty  of the Auditor-General  and Ombudsman to refer complaints to IBAC and other bodies.

It will narrow the principal function of the Ombudsman to administrative actions and apply a  confidentiality  scheme  to the operations of the Ombudsman and its investigations.  Essentially it will  complete the oversight  of  the regime  by other integrity bodies and parliamentary committees.

The member  for Hastings  raised the  Ombudsman, which drew  me to  look at  the letter  the  Ombudsman  sent the  Premier  on  26  November.  It  was  a  fairly comprehensive letter  which I understand the media got a hold of. I just want to quote a couple of things the Ombudsman had to say. He said:

  … I was not consulted regarding the content of those bills and requests from  my  office  for access to  the bills before  the  second-reading speeches were  presented were refused.
  …

  From  that  analysis I consider that the scheme is poorly  designed  with  the  result  that  the bills  contain  a  number of  concerning  elements which, if  enacted,  will  constrain  and  compromise  the  functions  of  an independent  Ombudsman  for Victoria and will significantly undermine the effectiveness  of  the  integrity scheme which  your government intends  to implement. Indeed,  I  consider  that enacting the  bills  will be a  significant  backward step  for  public sector accountability.

He goes on  to say many other things  but I thought the  following in particular was very  interesting, as it gets to  the heart of what  the Ombudsman thinks of the current IBAC scheme. On the two-year anniversary of the Baillieu government, the Ombudsman said:

  The  scheme,  as designed,  prevents  matters that appear  to  involve corrupt  conduct from being investigated by the Ombudsman, while not empowering IBAC to  investigate the majority of those matters due to the high threshold that needs  to  be  satisfied  nor providing  any  guarantee that  those  matters  will be  investigated or accounted for.

The member for  Hastings  raised the Ombudsman, but  he did not seem to  want to talk about the letter the Ombudsman sent to his boss, the Premier.

I  follow  the  former  Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, in the seat of Niddrie.  My predecessor was  often   criticised for  the  influx   of lawyers  coming   into government, with his  reforms. But I think  if  you picked up the  Age today you would think we were going to see more of an influx of lawyers coming to work for the Baillieu government than we have ever seen before,  because it was very much a noodle nation piece.

 

Putting the Ombudsman aside, you can look  at what was said by other independent third  parties, such as a quote  I saw today of Tim Smith, the Victorian Supreme Court judge, who provided advice on the  Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) structure. He is reported as saying it is best to  start again and that there are:

  layers of unnecessary … red tape –
 

to use his words. He believes that:

  Instead  of having an  anticorruption commission and parallel  bodies, such as  the Ombudsman and the auditor-General
 

we have –

  a complex system of supervision and referrals.

It was even described as being farcical.

The same article in the Age of 28 November also reports it as:

  a  constrained, convoluted  and  high-pitched  web  of  structures  that  seem  destined to strangle themselves in legal knots.
 

I  go back to  2009,  which almost brings us  here  today, when the Premier  Ted Baillieu said,  ‘Let’s break once and for all the culture of corruption in  this state’. When I read that again before I got up to speak today, it reminded me of some other things the Premier has said.

But  let us reserve judgement on IBAC.  It is 18 months late,  and if you read a fair  bit  of  the  commentary on  the  two-year  anniversary  of  the  Baillieu government you will see that it has  had some  ticks but  that overwhelmingly in the last week there have been a lot of negative and more outspoken people coming to  the  forefront  to  comment on it. Essentially all members would  agree  the real-world  test  of IBAC will  soon  begin. Once  this  legislation  has passed through Parliament, IBAC will be up and running.

But I do not believe this  will  be the last piece of IBAC legislation  we  will see. I  think the  government would  be foolish  if it  imagined that this  IBAC legislation is the last word on fighting corruption in this state.

The Kennett government back in 1999 was regarded as nobbling the Auditor-General and various other agencies. Credit needs to be given to  the Baillieu government for setting  up IBAC. However, I believe much more will need to be done and this is  not  the  last piece  of  legislation  we  will see  on  IBAC,  and that its real-world test will soon begin.  Having said  that, I  wish the  bill a  speedy passage. Let us  hope  it does meet what the public expects: full accountability in the state of Victoria.