Victoria’s independent anti-corruption agency has declined to investigate four department heads over a government advertising campaign, instead passing a complaint from the opposition on to the Public Sector Commission.
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien went on the attack two weeks ago after the government started demanding a “fair share” for the state from the Commonwealth, “whoever wins” the federal election in May.
O’Brien argued the ads were clearly designed to influence sentiment against the Morrison government in Canberra, which would mean they had breached the state’s Public Administration Act. Government ads that “advocate on behalf of Victoria to advance Victoria’s position or interests” are specifically allowed, as they are considered to be in the public interest, but not if they are deliberately misleading or inaccurate.
The Victorian Liberal Party leader said the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission should investigate the roles of public service leaders in approving the campaign, and the auditor-general should probe the spending as well.
O’Brien specifically pointed the bone at Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles, Treasury and Finance secretary David Martine, Health and Human Services secretary Kym Peake and Jenny Atta, who heads up the Department of Education.
On Tuesday, IBAC stated it had forwarded the opposition leader’s complaint to public sector commissioner Paul Grimes as he was best placed to handle it:
“The complaint alleges the advertising campaign is a possible breach of the Public Administration Act 2004. This may involve a breach of public sector values or the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees. Such issues are best assessed by the Victorian Public Sector Commission as part of its functions and duties.
“IBAC has requested the Victorian Public Sector Commission provide advice on the outcome of its consideration of these issues and notify IBAC should it identify any matters which may constitute corrupt conduct by any public sector employee.
“IBAC will then determine what further action is required.”