April 30, 2013  |  Second Reading speech

Integrity Legislation Amendment Bill

I rise to make a contribution to the Integrity Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. As has been stated previously by speakers on this side of the house, the opposition does not oppose the bill. The bill will make amendments to the Independent Broad‑based Anti‑corruption Commission Act 2011 and the Victorian Inspectorate Act 2011. As members have said, the key elements of the bill are to provide a pension entitlement for the Commissioner of the Independent Broad‑based Anti‑corruption Commission and the Inspector of the Victorian Inspectorate. This will be in line with pension arrangements that apply to judges of the Supreme Court of Victoria. There will, however, be some restrictions, which go to the heart of having the public’s confidence in the independence of these senior judicial officers. The pension will restrict the ability of these officers to be appointed to public office when in receipt of a pension.

The amendments confer a pension entitlement on the IBAC Commissioner and the Inspector. They incorporate the same post‑retirement restrictions that apply to a Supreme Court judge under the Constitution Act 1975. The bill provides that the pensions of retired IBAC commissioners and retired inspectors will cease if they accept an appointment of a judicial office, will be diminished if they have an entitlement to a federal or interstate judicial pension and will be suspended if they hold an office for profit under the Crown or engage in legal practice unless the Governor in Council determines otherwise. This is essentially a constitutionally protected pension scheme intended to enhance independence and public confidence in senior office‑holders.

In addition to the pension entitlements there is a salary sacrifice mechanism incorporated in the bill which provides that the IBAC Commissioner and Inspector may enter into salary sacrifice arrangements. The bill obviously makes some consequential arrangements, but no‑one can argue with these remuneration arrangements when they have a look at the qualifications and expertise of the IBAC Commissioner and indeed the Inspector.

In preparing for today I did a little bit of research, and being a member of the Law Institute of Victoria myself I downloaded Lawyers Weekly, which had a good profile on Stephen O’Bryan, SC, the person named by the government as the inaugural Commissioner. Mr O’Bryan has accepted the role, I think it is a good appointment and it was welcomed on all sides. It is very much a good appointment considering he is someone who has spent over 30 years at the bar and is a former associate to two High Court judges. I will read from an article quoting law institute president Michael Holcroft. It states:

‘The legislation is complex and still does not allow investigation of misconduct in public office’, he said, adding that O’Bryan’s experience with royal commissions, boards of inquiry and coronial inquests will assist him in fulfilling the role.

So this is a good appointment. I think Mr O’Bryan has an immense task ahead of him. I think the bill going through the house is a good piece of legislation, ensuring that Mr O’Bryan will be well remunerated and that his office will be independent and above influence. We welcome it.

However, this side of the house notes — as has been mentioned by the member for Melbourne — that this is the ninth piece of legislation on IBAC. I was on the Premier’s website last night. Only late last year the former Premier, and the former IBAC minister, held a press conference about what they thought was the final and last piece of legislation. They held a press conference to celebrate it going through the upper house. However, here we are in 2013 again passing legislation on IBAC. It must be pointed out that in the interview the former IBAC minister was questioned — this is on the Premier’s website today — about whether or not this was the final piece of legislation and whether or not superannuation had been accounted for. I would like to quote the former minister. On 11 December 2012 he said in relation to Mr O’Bryan’s appointment:

Can I just say, you know, these are important positions we are announcing. Now, of course, they both take up their roles on the first of January, as I said, they will be renumerated like a judge and receive a pension.

So it was known that they were going to receive a pension, but here we are now, almost six months later, passing the legislation that will provide for that pension. Today’s is the ninth piece of IBAC legislation that we have debated. We hope it is the final piece of such legislation.

If the house will indulge me, as it did the member for Mildura, I will look at some of the commentary we heard last year when the critical pieces of IBAC legislation were being put through. Members will remember that an Ombudsman’s letter which was fairly critical of the process and the structure of IBAC had found its way into the media. I think everyone would agree that the IBAC regime is complex. However, given his qualifications, his history in dealing with commissions and his 30 years at the bar, Mr O’Bryan will have the skill to see that IBAC lives up to expectations and be a fully accountable mechanism for dealing with misconduct in public office, right through the whole of the state government bureaucracy.

However, if we go back to the Ombudsman’s letter of 26 November 2012, we see that
he raised concerns that he had not been consulted about the setting up of IBAC, and he 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.

Putting the Ombudsman’s criticisms on consultation aside, if you look at some of the comments by Tim Smith, a former Victorian Supreme Court judge, you will see that he provided advice on the structure of IBAC. You can see why the qualifications of Mr O’Bryan matter, because in the Age of 28 November 2012 Mr Smith is reported as speaking about delays with unnecessary red tape. The article states:

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.

That having been said, if you go to ibac.vic.gov.au, you see that despite the complexities of the task this organisation is charged with, it has a fairly user‑friendly website. I think Commissioner O’Bryan, with his skill, will be able to navigate the complexities and ensure that the commission lives up to expectations. This is the ninth piece of legislation, but there will probably be a tenth, if the history of the setting up of IBAC is anything to go by. Having said that, I wish the bill a speedy passage through the Parliament.

I did some research last night. I urge members who have not been to the IBAC website to get on and go to it, because it not only contains useful information about Mr O’Bryan’s experience but is also charged with educating the public about the public perceptions of misconduct and corruption. A media release on the IBAC website dated 5 December 2012 relates to a survey conducted by IBAC in conjunction with the Australian National University (ANU). It was a survey on the prevalence of perceptions of corruption in Victoria. The media release reports Professor Adam Graycar from the ANU Research School of Social Sciences as saying that the Victorian public clearly felt that corruption was
on the rise. It states:

While Australia ranks as one of the 10 least corrupt countries in the world, perceptions that corruption is increasing can do harm to our international standing, and to community confidence. Countering corruption is a significant challenge for government, and the best approaches are education, prevention, and as a last resort, criminalisation. The key lies in good governance …

Good governance is what we expect and what we hope IBAC will ensure. Given that a poll shows that Victorians believe corruption has increased, IBAC is important. It is a pity it is not like the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, which is what was promised. Having said that, let us hope we can get this legislation through Parliament.