Message from the Commissioner - March 2021

The Honourable Robert Redlich QC

Welcome to the first edition of IBAC Insights for 2021. Regular readers of IBAC Insights will be aware this e-newsletter is a key channel for sharing IBAC's work to expose and prevent corruption. While our focus is on Victoria, we share learnings and findings from integrity agencies across Australia, as well as internationally. Please share this newsletter with colleagues and anyone who is interested in building integrity and preventing corruption and police misconduct.

Operation Sandon

In December 2020, IBAC held the third round of public examinations for Operation Sandon 

into allegations of serious corrupt conduct in relation to planning and property development decisions at the Casey City Council. The virtual hearings were streamed and well attended. The hearings also examined the adequacy of Victoria's current systems and controls for safeguarding the integrity of the state's planning processes.

As part of IBAC's focus on prevention, the public hearings concluded with evidence from five specialist witnesses on topics identified over the course of IBAC’s investigation, along with questions received from the public in relation to planning, donations and lobbying, council governance, and transparency and accountability in relation to decision making by councillors, ministers and their advisors. The issues raised will be considered as part of IBAC's strategic research and policy work to inform the recommendations in our special report to Parliament on Operation Sandon. Transcripts from the examinations and written submissions provided by the experts can be accessed on our website. Many of the issues raised in Sandon have also emerged in other operations presently underway, which will further support the same recommendations.

Operation Lynd

Operation Lynd was an IBAC 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 in 2019. The Hares & Hyenas bookstore holds great significance for Victoria's LGBTIQ community.

In April 2020, IBAC advised Victoria Police it needed to address issues identified by IBAC in relation to this incident. Victoria Police's response to IBAC's recommendations is available on our website. IBAC publishes agency responses to our investigations to inform the community about actions agencies advise they are taking, and to assist Victoria Police and the public sector to strengthen their policies, systems and practices to prevent corruption and misconduct.

IBAC notes the work undertaken by Victoria Police to address vulnerabilities identified in Operation Lynd, including to improve awareness and understanding of officers’ obligations to uphold human rights. However, this is an area requiring ongoing focus and improvement.

IBAC also holds broader concerns about potential systemic issues and misconduct vulnerabilities in relation to the Victoria Police Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) arising not only from Operation Lynd, but also IBAC's oversight and review of other incidents involving CIRT members. IBAC is developing a special report on police misconduct issues and risks associated with CIRT, to be tabled to Parliament in 2021/22.

More broadly, we are strengthening our communication and engagement to better reach communities who are diverse or experiencing vulnerability. We understand that social, economic, cultural or other factors may create vulnerability for some people in our community and may increase their interactions with police or other government organisations within IBAC's remit. Through consultation and engagement with key stakeholders representing focus communities, we aim to ensure that Victoria's diverse communities better understand IBAC's role and what we can investigate, have increased confidence to make a complaint to IBAC, and trust us to appropriately and sensitively handle complaints, and to ensure our organisation and staff are well-equipped to engage with a variety of people.

Features this edition

I thank the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner Adam Fennessy PSM and Professor Adam Graycar for their contributions to this edition. Commissioner Fennessy provides a thoughtful overview of the role the VPSC plays in ensuring and promoting integrity in the Victorian public sector.

Professor Graycar has devoted a significant part of his career to understanding and researching corruption in government and is currently the Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Stretton Institute at the University of Adelaide. In 2020, Professor Graycar was a co-winner of the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award for Academic Research and Education. In this edition, Professor Graycar discusses his learnings from extensive global research focused on malfeasance in public administration, especially in low corruption environments. The findings of this research have direct relevance for our public sector.

Continuing the theme of public sector corruption risks, IBAC's Executive Director of Prevention & Communication Christine Howlett highlights findings from IBAC's recent strategic assessment into present and emerging corruption risks. This strategic assessment is important for IBAC as it provides up-to-date intelligence which informs our decision making and the direction of future expository and prevention work. We are sharing key findings to help inform corruption prevention strategies for Victoria’s public sector. See our new infographic and video on these findings.

New digital case study on excessive use of police force in Ballarat

Operation Ross was IBAC's investigation into the use of excessive force by some police officers at Ballarat Police Station against vulnerable people. IBAC initiated Operation Ross after receiving CCTV footage from Victoria Police showing the alleged mistreatment of a woman in custody in the cells of the Ballarat police station in January 2015. The woman who had been arrested for public drunkenness was later revealed to be a serving police officer on leave for medical reasons.

In 2016, IBAC held public hearings in Ballarat as part of the investigation. Operation Ross exposed the unacceptable casual disregard and mistreatment of vulnerable women in police custody by some police officers, which raised concerns about the duty of care afforded to people in custody. Front line policing can be challenging, and police officers regularly deal with volatile situations. This notwithstanding, the community rightly expects Victoria Police officers to use their powers lawfully, professionally and ethically.

Now that all prosecutions related to this investigation are completed, we have produced a digital case study to provide a fresh look at how this investigation unfolded, what the outcomes were, and what can be done to prevent similar misconduct risks in future. This is a useful resource for Victoria Police and all stakeholders wanting to learn more about this significant investigation.

Readers may also be interested that recent reforms to decriminalise public drunkenness in Victoria were in part informed by IBAC's special report on Operation Ross, as cited in this Parliamentary debate. Abolishing the offence of public drunkenness was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991, and Victorian Parliamentary Committee inquiries in 2001 and 2006. Subsequently, following a 2020 Coroner's inquiry into the death of Yorta Yorta woman Ms Tanya Day, legislation to decriminalise public drunkenness in Victoria was introduced in December 2020, and passed by the Victorian Parliament in February this year.

Eight years on

In early February, IBAC marked eight years as a fully operational agency. We've achieved a great deal and have matured as an agency, but there is still much to do to achieve our vision of a corruption-resistant Victoria. I would like to acknowledge the contributions of current and former IBAC officers, including IBAC's foundation Commissioner Stephen O'Bryan QC, our first CEO Alistair Maclean, IBAC's executive leadership group, and all past and present employees who have made such an important contribution to exposing and preventing corruption in Victoria. I also acknowledge and appreciate the ongoing engagement and support of all our community and public sector stakeholders.

IBAC's Deputy Commissioners are appointed by the Governor in Council and perform a vital role assisting the Commissioner, performing duties and functions under the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act 2011. In January, we welcomed Ms Kylie Kilgour who joins us as Acting Deputy Commissioner focusing on IBAC's independent police oversight. Ms Kilgour's significant expertise and deep understanding of police regulatory, integrity and administration matters has ensured IBAC's capacity to expose and prevent corruption and police misconduct is maintained, while recruitment is undertaken by IBAC together with the Department of Justice and Community Safety to fill this role on an ongoing basis.

I would like to acknowledge Helen Fatouros, our Executive Director with responsibility for Legal, Assessment & Review and Compliance, who recently left IBAC. Recruitment is currently underway to fill this important role. I thank Helen for her service and wish her all the best in future endeavours.

In closing, it was great to have the opportunity to appear before the Victorian Parliament’s Integrity and Oversight Committee yesterday to talk about IBAC's ongoing performance and achievements in exposing and preventing corruption and police misconduct across Victoria. The transcript from the public hearing will be published on the Committee's website in due course.

The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC
IBAC Commissioner

Read more in IBAC Insights Issue 27.