Phil Hill and Rebecca Burdon are IBAC’s managing lawyers within the Legal, Assessment, Reviews and Compliance Division. They oversee IBAC's in-house legal practice and are leading a number of improvements and legal practice changes with the Director of the division, Helen Fatouros.
When the opportunity to work for IBAC came in early 2016, I jumped. I had been curious about IBAC since its inception and had watched the organisation with interest. My legal career had been in private practice and in-house roles; articles and seven years at Slater and Gordon, regulatory, prosecutorial and commercial roles in government, and a four-year stint as lawyer for the Port Phillips Sea Pilots (indulging a nautical bent).
My desire to work on police and government accountability stemmed from my pre-legal career where I worked as a youth worker, a criminologist in the Department of Justice, and a manager in the juvenile justice system. Working with the most vulnerable groups in the Victorian community gave me a sense of purpose as I had seen firsthand the consequences of ineffective government programs.
I was also attracted to the oversight IBAC has over Victoria's public interest disclosure scheme, formerly known as 'protected disclosures'; I was the first protected disclosure coordinator for the Department of Transport in 2009. This experience showed me how challenging it was in those early years to implement the scheme; many agencies just didn’t see it as 'core' business. Victoria's public sector has clearly come a long way since then.
For me, IBAC covered the bases of things I cared about. It had a mandate to not only expose and investigate (and prosecute) public sector corruption and police misconduct, but to educate and inform the public sector to prevent corruption, and to have oversight of all public interest disclosures.
This is what the 'broad-based' in IBAC's title refers to. These two seemingly innocuous words give IBAC a strong mandate unique among other Australian integrity agencies. I find this expansive mandate to be the most compelling part of working for IBAC. It's also what makes our work incredibly complex and intricate. We are focused on balancing the pillars of corruption investigation, police misconduct oversight, prevention efforts and stewardship of the public interest disclosure scheme.
It's not just about making sure there are consequences for people who do wrong. A narrow and punitive focus alone does not change the organisational culture that enables corruption and wrongdoing. The breadth of our work gives us the scope and potential to simulate change across government that is comprehensive and meaningful. It's the building of integrity across the public sector that I’m the most excited about, and want to tell any grandkids I was involved in.
I started with IBAC in July last year. My road to IBAC was quite different to Phil's. I have had the benefit of coming to IBAC having been at the coalface of public service delivery. I started out as a social worker in the public mental health system where my work focused on the treatment, hospitalisation and support of vulnerable persons in our community with serious mental health issues, and ensuring their access to proper health care and justice.
I went on to study law and found myself practicing predominantly in criminal law with Victoria Legal Aid. My clients were all in some way disadvantaged and vulnerable, and many were subjected to use of excessive force by police. At that time, I had not seen police brutality dealt with in any meaningful way, and was therefore interested in the work IBAC was doing to independently oversee police misconduct. I wanted to contribute to stamping this out and holding police accountable for their actions and challenging the obscuring or 'cover up' behaviours that often make exposing, investigating and responding to police misconduct especially difficult.
My work with IBAC is exciting and exhausting, probably in equal amounts given its complexity, volume and breadth. I find our work providing independent police oversight particularly challenging. Police officers have a really difficult job and most of them perform their duties well. Those that don't, and are caught out, have a great deal of legal and other resources at their disposal, particularly when compared to those available to vulnerable members of the community who may be impacted by police misconduct. Not only does this put complainants at a considerable disadvantage in seeking legal recourse, but has wider ramifications, including further impacting their mental health, and making accountability sometimes difficulty to achieve.
Another challenge we face is that our mandate requires us to prioritise investigations into allegations of serious police misconduct. In my experience, a police officer involved in serious misconduct has often been involved in similar conduct over many years, which may or may not have come to light either publicly or within the ranks themselves.
Many legal and community advocates understandably want IBAC to have the capacity to deal with all police misconduct issues, big and small. The legal team look forward to advancing legislative reforms to enable IBAC to better meet the opportunities and challenges of exposing and preventing police corruption and misconduct. After a lifelong career of battling for the underdog, I am gratified that I can continue fighting the good fight.