Watchdog leaps out of the ballot box | The Australian

PREMIER John Brumby spoke a lot about timing on Wednesday.

He said when his predecessor, Steve Bracks, increased the power of the state’s Ombudsman in 2004, he did so because “the times called for it”.

He said when Bracks made the decision in 2006 to separate the Ombudsman from the Office of Police Integrity, it was because: “The time was right for those reforms.”

He said when he commissioned former Kennett government Department of Premier and Cabinet chief Elizabeth Proust to review the state’s anti-corruption bodies last November, it was because: “The time was right to have a fresh look at the integrity framework.”

And when he performed an outstanding triple backflip to announce the formation of the Victorian Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission on Wednesday, he said: “The time is right for the new wave of reforms to drive integrity in our state.”

So is the timing suddenly right? Or had time simply run out? Clearly, two months ago when he described a broad-based anti-corruption commission as a “lawyers’ picnic” and waste of taxpayers’ money, the timing was wrong. It was so wrong in February, Brumby called such a body a “legal extravaganza” that would result in: “Less money for schools, less money for preschools, less money for hospitals, less money for police.”

Now, staring down the barrel of a tight November election, the need for a broad-based anti-corruption body might have been a hot campaign issue. Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu had a long-standing position that Victoria needed an independent corruption watchdog..

Time and again there have been calls for a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption-style body in Victoria from anti-corruption campaigners, some of whom, such as police whistleblower Simon Illingworth, had experienced at first hand the shortcomings of the existing anti-corruption regime.

When perjury charges against former police union boss Paul Mullett were dropped last year and then against former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby in February, critics said the existing police watchdog needed to be replaced with a broadly based anti-corruption body.

Those calls were redoubled in April when Carl Williams was bludgeoned to death in a high-security prison. And when prosecutors last week flagged the collapse of the murder case against former drug squad detective Paul Dale, who had been the subject of an OPI investigation, the need for an anti-corruption body was once again raised.

The time for Brumby to announce the establishment of his three-pronged VIACC had come. It had come because the amount of time he was having to spend in front of the media defending Victoria’s existing anti-corruption measures continued to increase.

He took two days to read the Proust report, front the cameras and concede: “On balance, I have been persuaded by the report.”

And he stressed the backdown was not a reluctant one. “It’s not reluctant at all. I’ve received a report, it has identified that there are some gaps in the system and we’ll move to remedy them.”

It’s about time.


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