No start in sight for new corruption watchdog

Farrah Tomazin

April 17, 2011

    Illustration: Matt Golding

    Illustration: Matt Golding

    PREMIER Ted Baillieu has backed away from his promise to create Victoria’s first corruption-busting agency by the middle of the year, and is unable to say how soon the $160 million policy can be achieved.

    After pledging to get tough on crime and boost public service integrity, the government admits its highly touted plan for an independent anti-corruption commission is unlikely to be delivered by July 1, as promised, because the policy is more complicated than expected.

    The plan involves a new commission with sweeping powers to investigate alleged corruption and misconduct by cabinet ministers and their staff, police, councillors, the judiciary and others in public service. An international firm has begun searching for a suitable commissioner, who will have the powers to tap phones and conduct covert surveillance.

    But while Coalition policy documents clearly state the independent broad-based anti-corruption commission (IBAC) ”will be operational by 1 July 2011”, the government has now refused to commit to a time frame, other than to say it will be this year.

    Asked by The Sunday Age how soon the commission would be fully operational, Crime Prevention Minister Andrew McIntosh said in a statement: ”Work on the bill for the establishment of the IBAC is well advanced. The legislation will be introduced into Parliament this year. The Baillieu government is determined to ensure that Victoria’s integrity bodies operate in line with world’s best practice. The government has repeatedly made clear that IBAC will be established in 2011.”

    Liberal insiders say the delay is in part due to the time it has taken to obtain Commonwealth approval for telephone intercept powers, a matter which the government says is still being ”co-operatively” worked through between the Department of Justice and the federal government.

    But opposition anti-corruption commission spokeswoman Jill Hennessy said the blame ”belongs fairly and squarely’ with Mr McIntosh, who should have applied to the Commonwealth for enabling legislation sooner than he did, to ensure the commission would be delivered without delays.

    “The Baillieu government wants Victorians to believe that it’s getting on with the job, but the commission is yet another example that they’re big on rhetoric and short on delivery,” she said.

    The plan for an anti-corruption commission was a central pitch of Mr Baillieu’s election campaign and created an early point of difference with then premier John Brumby. For years, Mr Brumby insisted the current system – an Ombudsman to oversee the public sector, the Office of Police Integrity to investigate police corruption, the Auditor-General to check financial compliance in government departments – was good enough to weed out corruption, but bowed to public pressure after a review found significant gaps.

    Under the Coalition policy, there will be an overarching integrity and anti-corruption agency comprising three commissioners who specialise in the public service, local government, and police. A new parliamentary commissioner will also be set up to investigate misconduct by MPs and staffers, and a new judicial commission will investigate wrongdoing by judges and magistrates. A single commissioner will also be appointed with all the powers of a standing royal commission.



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