- From: Sunday Herald Sun
- April 17, 2011
EXCLUSIVE: A FOUR-member panel led by a former Victorian Supreme Court judge will shape Victoria’s first ongoing commission into corruption.
The new Victorian corruption-fighting authority will be given unprecedented manpower, funding and permission to spy on public servants, the Baillieu Government has revealed.
An army of 300 spooks, snoops and eaves-droppers will be employed by the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission in a bid to stamp out dishonest dealings and unscrupulous behaviour in the public service.
The Government will unveil today a four-member vanguard of prominent former judges and legal experts to spearhead its efforts in developing an anti-corruption policy unique to Victoria.
But in a blow to the Government, it is now clear it will break a core election promise to have the organisation operating by July 1.
During an interview with the Sunday Herald Sun on Friday, Crime Prevention Minister Andrew McIntosh conceded the Government was highly unlikely to meet its deadline and the minister was unable to nominate a start date.
“I know we had a policy to get this done by the first of July,” he said.
“We have worked assiduously, we have talked to a large number of people, but what we need to do is get this right.
“The matter will be dealt with as soon as possible, but the overriding issue is to get it right the first time.”
Asked about a likely start date, Mr McIntosh said he could not give a firm date.
“We set out a policy for the first of July. That’s ambitious,” he said. “We have to get it right. That’s the most important thing.
“If we don’t get it right, people’s rights and liberties will potentially be trashed by having a knee-jerk reaction.”
Former Australian Bar Association president Stephen Charles, QC, will chair the trouble-shooting committee to review legal, constitutional and practical issues hampering the commission’s formation.
Former Victorian government solicitor and County Court judge Gordon Lewis AM and Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation member Gail Owen OAM will also serve on the panel.
It will consult with Victoria Police, the Victorian Bar, the Ombudsman, Law Institute of Victoria, Office of Police Integrity and the Police Association on how to best set up the body.
A fourth member is expected to be appointed as early as today.
While conceding for the first time the Government was unlikely to meet its timetable, Mr McIntosh gave the Sunday Herald Sun a comprehensive outline of the body’s rules of engagement and how it would be monitored.
The organisation will cost about $40 million a year to run and be staffed by a team about twice the size of the OPI.
Every public servant in Victoria – from administrative officers to ministers, Premier Ted Baillieu and Police Commissioner Simon Overland – could have their phones tapped and computers monitored by the new authority.
The commission, and the yet-to-be appointed head of the commission, will be accountable to a new joint parliamentary committee and an inspector hired to watch the watchdog.
Mr McIntosh said the Government had appointed the consultative committee to consider issues raised by existing integrity bodies.
It would consider:
IF people under its investigation should be stripped of legal professional privilege – a legal adviser’s right to refuse to disclose information about their clients.
WHETHER the commission was given OPI-like powers to seize the property of people under investigation.
CONSTITUTIONAL technicalities that could impact on the commission’s powers to interrogate the judiciary.
WHETHER hearings should be open to the public.
A DEFINITION of exactly who could be investigated by the new authority, including MPs, ministers, judges, heads of government agencies and public sector workers.
The Government is also considering whether not-for-profit organisations and companies outsourced to work in the public sector should be subject to the commission’s scrutiny.
“All of those things need to be put on the table, they need to be confronted and we need to get all these group’s views,” Mr McIntosh said. “Individuals may be consulted as well.”
IBAC legislation is expected to go before State Parliament this year.
Asked exactly when the commission would be operational, Mr Mcintosh said: “It’s pretty hard to say precisely. There are transitional issues, such as telephone tapping powers, whistleblower powers.
“But, critically, we want bodies like the Ombudsman, members of Parliament, the heads of government departments, ministers, if they suspect corruption, to be able to report that to IBAC.
“IBAC will be the ultimate determiner of how and what is investigated so if the Ombudsman gets an allegation that amounts to corruption, then it has to be referred to IBAC.”
Mr McIntosh has instructed his troubleshooters to report back in about three months, with at least some of their findings likely to be added to a draft policy the Coalition has drawn up.
Parliament does not sit in July, meaning the earliest legislation could be introduced is August 16.
Mr McIntosh said an Australia-wide search was being undertaken to find an IBAC commissioner, but denied anyone had been earmarked for the role.
He said the four judges appointed to head his consultative committee were unlikely to be considered.
“I think we need to have someone that will be completely independent of this whole drafting process,” he said. “‘It would be someone who is eligible to be a Supreme Court judge.”
Stephen Charles QC chair
Practised as a barrister from 1961 to 1995, became a Queen’s Counsel in 1975 and was appointed a QC in all Australian states and territories. Chairman of the Victorian Bar Council 1983 to 1985 and president of the Australian Bar Association from 1986 to 1986. He was appointed judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal in 1995 before retiring in 2006.
Gordon Lewis deputy chair
Served 11 years as chief executive of the Law Institute of Victoria from 1975 to 1986. In 1986 he was appointed Commissioner for Corporate Affairs and was awarded life membership of the Law Institute of Victoria. Was Victorian Government Solicitor from 1987 until his appointment in 1990 as a County Court judge. Currently Cricket Australia’s code of conduct commissioner.
Practised as a barrister and solicitor in Victoria, ACT, NSW and Western Australia. In 1991 she was appointed the Law Institute’s first female president in 132 years. From 1994 to 2006 she served on the Supreme Court board of examiners and was chair in 1996, 2000 and 2004. Also Commissioner of the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation.
* A fourth member will be announced as early as today
TEN KEY POINTS
1 300 staff to fight corruption.
2 $20 million has been budgeted for the commission’s formation this year.
3 $40 million will be spent running the organisation from 2012.
4 A team of four former judges and legal experts will iron out problems and technicalities hampering the commission’s formation over the next three months.
5 Victoria Police, the Law Institute, Ombudsman, Office of Police Integrity, Police Association and the Victorian Bar will be consulted before legislation goes to State Parliament.
6 Government set to miss its pre-State Election pledge that the commission will be up and running by July 1.
7 A powerful new joint parliamentary committee set up and an inspector hired to monitor the commission and commissioner.
8 An Australia-wide search under way for a legal expert to head the new authority.
9 Every public sector worker in the state as well as MPs, Ministers and police likely to be subject to phone tapping.
10 Legislation expected in parliament later this year.