Proust hits back at Ombudsman

DAVID ROOD

August 13, 2010

    THE architect of Victoria’s planned anti-corruption commission has hit back at stinging criticism by the state Ombudsman that her work was based on incorrect allegations, misconceptions and could lead to less corruption being exposed.

    In a rebuke of Ombudsman George Brouwer, former senior public servant Elizabeth Proust yesterday said she stood by her recommendation for an anti-corruption commission.

    Mr Brouwer used his annual report to Parliament, tabled on Wednesday, to warn that the new anti-corruption commission was too complex and provided legal barriers to finding corruption.

    He also claimed Ms Proust reported factually incorrect, untested and unchallenged allegations about ”procedural fairness” by his office in her review of state integrity bodies.

    Ms Proust said she had received consistent and credible evidence from a wide range of people about concerns over their treatment by the Ombudsman’s office and a lack of due process.

    ”His [Mr Brouwer’s] report was tabled … it speaks for itself. I just don’t agree with it,” she said. ”It was credible evidence and something that needed to be aired and the government has accepted that changes will be made in the Ombudsman’s office to ensure legal representation.”

    Ms Proust said she was surprised and concerned about a lack of legal representation for people being investigated by the Ombudsman.

    ”I had expected that people who had been charged with nothing and been accused of nothing would be asked questions and if they wanted to they would have lawyers but they told us consistently they were not allowed to,” she said.

    Premier John Brumby accepted Ms Proust’s recommendation for a Victorian anti-corruption commission in June.

    The Proust review of integrity agencies also recommended that the scope of the Ombudsman’s powers be reduced, with some of the powers given to the new anti-corruption body and the Ombudsman overseen by Parliament for the first time.

    The new commission is expected to be running by the end of next year.

    With the two leading anti-corruption figures at loggerheads, Mr Brumby yesterday stood by the review’s recommendations.

    ”There’s no doubt there is some debate about these issues but that was their strong recommendation to me and that’s what we accepted,” the Premier said.

    Rejecting the Ombudsman’s claim the new commission would be too complex, Ms Proust said it would close existing legal barriers, such as the exchange of information between various integrity bodies.

    In a speech to the Law Institute yesterday, Ms Proust said the research for her report found a higher level of public concern in Victoria than she expected.

    She said the state’s various integrity bodies did not add up to a coherent system, with confusion and a lack of confidence from the public.

    ”We found no instances of high level corruption,” Ms Proust said.

    ”But clearly there is in the community a certain perception not all is well.”

     

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