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.