A joint report by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) and the Victorian Ombudsman (VO) has detailed allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers.
The report was tabled in the Victorian parliament on Wednesday, examining allegations of misuse of public resources for political purposes.
Of its 21 recommendations, a key change being called for is the creation of a parliamentary ethics committee and a parliamentary integrity commissioner.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews acknowledged the ‘disgraceful behaviour’ exposed in the report, saying he took full responsibility.
“As leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party and the premier of our state, I‘ll take full responsibility for all of that conduct. That‘s what the top job is all about. And I apologise for it.”
Andrews gave private evidence as part of the investigation hearings, admitting that branch stacking was a ‘serious problem’ within his political party.
The premier committed his government would go further than the report recommendations to fix the state’s integrity laws and prevent misconduct of this kind from happening again.
— Angelica Snowden (@ang3snowden) July 20, 2022
IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich issued a statement describing the misconduct of parliamentary members as ‘deeply concerning’. From appointing staff to pursue factional agendas, to behaviours that were not aligned to community expectations of decision-makers, he said the only logical conclusion to draw was how endemic an unethical culture was in Victoria’s moderate Labor faction.
“While we saw evidence of disturbing practices engaged in by staff, most of whom knew what they were doing was wrong, primary responsibility rests with the MPs for whom they worked and their factional leaders,” Redlich said.
“The unethical culture that was such a feature of this investigation, whether as an explanation or excuse for bad conduct, lies at its heart.”
An investigation of the allegations, known as Operation Watts and commencing in 2020, determined two MPs breached Victoria’s Ministerial Code of Conduct and the MPs’ Code of Conduct.
Allegations included nepotism, forged signatures, bullying, hiring unqualified people for publicly funded roles, and using these personnel to support party political factional work.
The investigation also considered alleged attempts to interfere with the government grants process.
Ombud Deborah Glass said this latest report showed how little had changed since her 2018 ‘red shirts’ report, which also highlighted the need for reforms in the state. She added that without meaningful and urgent action, public trust in politicians would decline further.
“The current legislative framework provides few, if any, consequences for abusing public resources and allowed the conduct we revealed in this investigation to continue unchecked,” Glass said.
“The majority of MPs genuinely seek to advance the public interest. We strongly encourage them to demonstrate this by supporting these reforms.”
Other recommendations made by IBAC and the ombud include changes to the Department of Parliamentary Services and electorate officers’ employment arrangements, improving accountability arrangements for MPs and ministers, updates to the Ministerial Staff Code of Conduct, and improving grant management frameworks for state and local government funders of community organisations.
No recommendations were made about prosecuting any of the people involved.
The state government has said it will implement the recommendations in full.