Message from the Commissioner - October 2020

The Honourable Robert Redlich QC

An extraordinary six months has passed since we published IBAC Insights in March. While IBAC's role in exposing corruption often reveals wrongdoing within our public sector, I am encouraged and heartened by the hard work of Victoria's public sector. It is particularly evident now, when the public sector faces extraordinary demands, that the vast majority of employees are motivated by a desire to serve the community to the best of their ability. I witness this focus every day from the hard working employees at IBAC, and this focus is a strong and integral characteristic of Victoria’s public sector.

In this edition our CEO, Marlo Baragwanath, writes about how integrity agencies across the country, IBAC included, have produced resources to support the integrity of our public sector during times of emergencies. See IBAC's resources for state government and local government.

Independent oversight of Victoria Police is an important part of IBAC's role. During the pandemic we continue to take complaints and work closely with Victoria Police. An example of this oversight is a matter IBAC is investigating involving Victoria Police and a member of the public following an incident in Epping on 13 September. In this edition we also cover how IBAC Deputy Commissioner Katie Miller has engaged with stakeholders to communicate the obligations of Victoria Police during this time.

Resourcing IBAC to do its work

Securing our budget independence, which came into effect on July 1 this year, was an important step as it ended our previous direct financial relationships with any department. However, adequate resourcing of IBAC remains an ongoing concern, as I have raised previously.

It is deeply concerning that IBAC's budget has remained largely static since we were founded. This means that today IBAC cannot investigate a significant number of complaints of serious misconduct which may warrant our investigation. This is not what the Parliament or the people of Victoria expect.

IBAC is deeply committed to ensuring we meet our legislated responsibilities for the Victorian community, but I need to be clear; without additional funding from 2021, IBAC will not be able to maintain current services and its capacity to expose and prevent corruption will be further curtailed and significantly impacted.

In a recent submission to the Parliamentary Integrity Oversight Committee, I noted IBAC is acutely aware of the budgetary pressures currently facing Victoria's public sector, exacerbated by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I advised the committee these pressures may result in agencies reprioritising resources to ensure maintenance of vital frontline services and potentially reducing investment in 'back of house' corporate governance and integrity activities. This makes IBAC's role in exposing and preventing corruption even more critical. 

It is times like these, when we are particularly faced with the challenges of the current pandemic that we must ensure we do not ignore the ever present need for vigilance to ensure integrity in all government decision making. A failure to do so, hurts us all.

IBAC is experiencing serious constraints on its operations due to its current, perilous budgetary position. While we continue to identify ways for us to more effectively and efficiently deliver for the Victorian community, there has clearly been significant growth in IBAC's workload since 2013, yet our core budget has not been indexed.

Since we were established eight years ago, IBAC has assumed a range of additional legislative and compliance functions not originally budgeted for and there are increasing expectations from key stakeholders for expanded oversight of police and more investigations and prevention activities. And of course, costs of running the agency increase over time. Exposing and preventing corruption cannot be adequately done on a static, inadequate budget.

As the core integrity institution of Victoria, it should not be necessary for me to publicly advocate for the Commission to be adequately resourced to enable basic maintenance of existing service capacity. However, I will continue to present our case to parliament and advocate to the best of my ability for IBAC to be properly resourced.

Maintaining integrity in local government

As Victorians head to the polls later this month for local council elections, IBAC's Deputy Commissioner David Wolf discusses in this edition, the role of integrity agencies in local government elections. Mr Wolf gives a timely reminder that we must be ever vigilant to protect the integrity of processes that safeguard our democracy.

Integrity agencies rely on the information provided by citizens to effectively identify and expose misconduct and corruption. A new video My local council: if something is not right, who do I complain to? makes it easier for Victorians to know who to complain to, and where to report suspected wrongdoing in local government. Produced by IBAC in collaboration with our partner integrity agencies, the Victorian Ombudsman and the Local Government Inspectorate, this video is a good example of how integrity agencies work together to raise awareness about the integrity system and the protections afforded to Victorians.

Renewing our prevention approach

IBAC has legislated prevention and education functions under the IBAC Act. Since we developed our current prevention strategy in 2015, there have been significant changes in the Victorian public sector, Victoria's integrity system and in IBAC's caseload and data holdings.  IBAC's Executive Director for Prevention & Communication Christine Howlett discusses how we are reviewing our prevention strategy in light of these changes. The review will inform, and be informed, by the Parliamentary Integrity and Oversight Committee Inquiry into the Education and Prevention Functions of Victoria's Integrity Agencies, which is due to report by 31 March 2021.

Operation Sandon and streamed public hearings

Readers of IBAC Insights will be aware that in March we adjourned public hearings as part of Operation Sandon – our investigation into allegations of serious corrupt conduct in relation to planning and property development decisions at City of Casey – in response to the state of emergency. We plan to resume public hearings as part of Operation Sandon soon via an online streaming platform.

New corruption prevention resources

In this edition, we share a range of corruption prevention resources from IBAC and other integrity agencies, including a recently updated information sheet on IBAC's legislated powers, which helps Victorians understand the powers under which we operate.

Corruption takes many forms. Corruption and misconduct occurs when proper processes are bypassed, as seen in our investigation into improper evidentiary and disclosure practices regarding the Victoria Police investigation of the murders of Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller in 1998.

The findings of this investigation, Operation Gloucester, are detailed in a special report tabled to Parliament. IBAC determined to investigate these matters as there was concern the improper practices identified during the murder investigation were still occurring today. Operation Gloucester again illustrates the importance of learning from lessons of the past to ensure we do not repeat them in the future. 

The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC

Read more in IBAC Insights Issue 25.