Message from the Commissioner - July 2020

The Honourable Robert Redlich QC

Welcome to the second edition of IBAC Insights for 2020. When we published the March edition, we could not foresee that the state of emergency, along with all the challenges this situation presents, would continue as it has for Victoria. At IBAC, while our physical offices are closed, we continue to expose and prevent public sector corruption and police misconduct within the parameters of remote working environments, and in compliance with the directives of the Chief Health Officer.

Despite the added complexities and constraints on conducting some activities, it remains a busy time for IBAC with several investigations closing, others starting and several prosecutions reaching their conclusion. I announced recently that we would collaborate with the Victorian Ombudsman to investigate alleged misconduct and corruption associated with 'branch stacking' and other related matters; it makes sense to pool our expertise and resources to investigate these serious allegations in line with each agency's remit and powers. 

The ability of IBAC to meet the growing demands and expectations of Parliament and the people of Victoria depends upon the resources, as well as powers, at our disposal. I have commented in previous IBAC Insights, as well as in last year's annual report, of the need for IBAC to be adequately resourced. I remain concerned that IBAC has not received any increase to its recurring budget since its inception in 2012, and this must be addressed.

Operation Lynd

In this issue of IBAC Insights we share a summary of Operation Lynd, an investigation into the conduct of Victoria Police officers during an incident that resulted in the serious injury of a member of the public at the Hares & Hyenas bookshop in Fitzroy last year.

Understandably, the use of force by Victoria Police in this incident generated significant public debate and raised community concern. Everyone is right to be concerned whenever a member of the public is injured as a result of police contact. And in this case, the fact that the Hares & Hyenas bookshop holds great importance, and has been for many years a vital focal point for Melbourne's LGBTIQA+ community was pertinent. Given past events, as well as recent incidents regarding allegations of racism and homophobia by some members of Victoria Police, there were concerns the incident might have reflected prejudice or discriminatory action by police.

This investigation summary provides information on IBAC's independent and impartial investigation to establish the facts of what occurred, and to determine whether any criminal offences or breaches of police discipline were committed. It also complements the media release published in April.

Readers may also be interested in an interview Katie Miller, IBAC's Deputy Commissioner for police oversight, gave to Joy FM, where Ms Miller speaks further on IBAC's findings on this matter. We understand the interest in Operation Lynd, and are continuing to liaise with stakeholders on the findings of Lynd and a range of other matters.

The community is rightly concerned when anyone is injured during an interaction with police. As part of our independent oversight of Victoria Police, use of force by police is a major focus for IBAC; indeed our first public hearings in relation to Victoria Police, Operation Ross, was an investigation into police use of force against vulnerable people in Ballarat.

In all our work, IBAC recognises we must be responsive to the needs of all our communities and stakeholders, particularly those who are vulnerable as the impact of corruption and police misconduct is felt most keenly by them. IBAC's focus on preventing corruption and strengthening public sector integrity is to ensure government decisions are always made in the best interests of the public and to deliver required vital services for the entire community. IBAC recognises that a dedicated focus is needed to effectively engage with diverse and vulnerable communities, and that care must always be taken in the way we conduct and communicate our work. We seek opportunities to continuously improve in this regard.

Operation Sandon

IBAC's Operation Sandon public hearings were postponed in March as the COVID-19 situation escalated. IBAC will resume public hearings as part of this significant investigation as soon as it is possible to do so, in line with the Chief Health Officer's directions. IBAC is committed to maintaining transparency and public accessibility by live streaming our public hearings where possible. Providing options to follow the hearings online, via video stream and transcripts, helps raise community awareness of the issues being examined and to inform action to prevent corruption.

Overseeing Victoria Police during COVID-19 emergency

The increased responsibilities Victoria Police have to enforce COVID-19 public health directions have posed particular challenges for our oversight work. IBAC Deputy Commissioner Katie Miller's feature on police oversight during COVID-19, gives an overview of how IBAC has been working with Victoria Police to ensure the focus remains on preventing misconduct during this time. Ms Miller’s article reinforces the importance of addressing systematic and organisational vulnerabilities to prevent corruption and police misconduct.

Operation Betka special report

A timely reminder of why organisations need to be vigilant in creating corruption-resistant environments is provided via our special report on Operation Betka, IBAC's investigation into allegations of corruption in the Department of Education and Training. Operation Betka exposed significant organisational failings in how conflicts of interest were managed by the Department, and provides a timely alert to every Victorian public sector agency of the corruption risks of not managing conflicts of interests.

Parliamentary inquiry into education and prevention functions of Victorian integrity agencies

We welcome the Integrity and Oversight Committee's recent announcement, on the launch of a public inquiry into how Victoria’s integrity agencies undertake their education and prevention functions to combat public sector corruption and misconduct. The inquiry is now calling for public submissions. As readers may know, the Committee monitors and reviews the performance of IBAC, the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, the Victorian Inspectorate and the Victorian Ombudsman.

Special profiles

Our profiles in this edition focus on people who work at IBAC, who they are and what drives them to affect change. IBAC CEO Marlo Baragwanath reflects on her first six months as CEO, how IBAC has responded to the challenges of COVID-19, and her vision for IBAC's future direction. Philip Hill and Rebecca Burdon, team leaders for IBAC’s legal division, share why they chose law as their profession and what motivates them to work for IBAC. Mr Hill and Ms Burdon oversee IBAC's dedicated in-house legal practice and are leading a number of improvements and legal practice changes with the Director of the division, Helen Fatouros.

The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC

Read more in IBAC Insights Issue 24.