IBAC Insights (newsletter)
Acting Commissioner’s message
Welcome to the September edition of IBAC Insights. In July IBAC released one of its most significant reports to date, the Operation Sandon special report, with recommendations on how government can tighten the loopholes that can allow corruption and misconduct to occur between councils and property developers.
Operation Sandon is a landmark investigation which exposed corruption vulnerabilities in Victoria’s planning decision-making processes at both state and local government levels. This investigation centred around Casey Council, which was sacked by the Victorian Government in 2020, in part due to issues exposed in IBAC's Operation Sandon investigation.
IBAC's Operation Sandon investigated allegations of corrupt conduct involving councillors and property developers in the City of Casey. We found clear evidence that two councillors accepted personal benefits from influencing council decisions related to planning or land use.
We looked into four planning matters that involved property developer John Woodman and his associates. All of those matters involved Casey Council as the decision maker, although two (of the matters) also required the Minister for Planning’s approval.
Our investigation found that councillors Sam Aziz and Geoff Ablett promoted John Woodman's and his clients' interests on council in exchange for payment and in-kind support. Both councillors failed to declare conflicts of interest in relation to their involvement with John Woodman or his companies on many occasions.
In Operation Sandon, IBAC made 34 recommendations to promote transparency in planning decisions; enhance donation and lobbying regulation; improve the accountability of ministerial advisers and electorate officers; and strengthen council governance.
Since the release of the report, we have engaged councils and stakeholders who work across local government to build awareness of our report and recommendations. We look forward to working with all relevant stakeholders to ensure these important reforms are implemented.
Preventing public sector corruption and police misconduct is an ongoing priority for IBAC. On this front, I am pleased to report that IBAC has released a range of new resources to help people within public sector better prevent corruption.
First, we have just released a series of sector profiles that use data collected from allegations and investigations. The first five unique profiles are for the police, local government, transport, education, and human services sectors. The profiles are designed for public officers in these sectors. They provide a snapshot of the sector’s corruption profile and guidance on the relevant corruption risks and drivers.
We have also developed a series of online learning modules to highlight key corruption risks including conflicts of interest and procurement, how to minimise them and how to apply key integrity concepts at work.
These 20-minute interactive resources are aimed at Victorian public service and local government employees, as well as police personnel.
Perceptions of corruption: Survey results from Victoria's MPs and councillors
IBAC's voluntary survey sought the opinions of MPs and councillors to better understand their knowledge of corruption; their perceptions of the prevalence of corruption; and their awareness and attitude towards reporting corruption.
Their responses help us to better target our corruption prevention, detection, and education efforts to address corruption risks and vulnerabilities across the whole public sector.
It was clear that of those who responded, many believe that corruption is a problem in their place of work, whether that was in the council or in parliament.
The survey showed that 73 per cent of councillors and 68 per cent of MPs think corruption is a problem in Victoria, with 59 per cent of councillors and 61 per cent of MPs agreeing it is a problem among elected officials. It was also interesting to learn that 64 per cent of councillors have personally observed or suspected a breach of professional boundaries in the past year compared to 39 per cent of MPs.
We now have work to do in further educating our political representatives on IBAC's role and functions as well as making it clear when inappropriate behaviour becomes corruption.
The survey findings reinforced the importance of several recommendations made in IBAC's Operation Sandon special report, including the need for better training on governance, leadership and integrity and the development of a model Councillor Code of Conduct.
Operation Watts: interim progress report
On 14 September, IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman (VO) tabled the Operation Watts progress report.
This report sets out the steps taken by the state government in addressing the recommendations raised by IBAC and the VO in the Operation Watts investigation report (2022). Many of the integrity risks exposed by Operation Watts require timely treatments and careful consideration given to the intent of the recommendations.
Operation Watts began in June 2020 after IBAC received confidential information about possible corruption, and media reports exposed widespread branch stacking in the Labor Party and the Attorney-General referred the issues to IBAC for investigation, and the Legislative Council also made a referral to the Victoria Ombudsman. Using the powers in their respective Acts, IBAC and the Ombudsman conducted a joint investigation.
The report shows good progress in some areas. But while the government has allocated over $8 million and staff from within the Department of Premier and Cabinet are tasked with drafting the necessary legislation, it has not yet indicated a timeframe for the introduction of the legislation to Parliament beyond reiterating the commitment to implement key reforms by June 2024, nor has it consulted with IBAC or the Ombudsman on the provisions of any draft bill.