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Anti-corruption chief Robert Redlich calls for independent funding of IBAC

Written by Javed Iqbal

Center for Public Integrity research director Catherine Williams said: “It is not difficult to imagine a scenario where a leader who is the subject of negative reports is tempted to retaliate against an institution like IBAC by reducing its funding.”

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She said a parliamentary committee could play a role in budget decisions for IBAC, but it must be non-government dominated and report to the public.

“But the optimal model would see funding allocated by a independent financial tribunal,” she said.

She also said the current threshold for IBAC to launch investigations was an “unwarranted limitation” to investigate soft corruption, for example pork barrels, which are designed to divert public funding to help the private political interests of the major parties and breaches of ministerial and staff codes which may not reach the limit of committing an offence.

Under current law, IBAC must have reasonable suspicion that a relevant offense has been committed before it can launch an investigation. Redlich said that threshold must be lowered to bring IBAC in line with its NSW counterpart, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which can investigate any allegation of suspected corruption, including alleged material breaches of the codes of conduct governing ministers and MPs.

“Very often when it comes to IBAC, even if it’s clear enough, there is unethical behavior that’s worth investigating, unless the material goes so far as to substantiate or meet that threshold, we have to reject it,” said Redlich.

Robert Redlich has highlighted a number of reforms that he believes are necessary to strengthen the anti-corruption watchdog.

Robert Redlich has highlighted a number of reforms that he believes are necessary to strengthen the anti-corruption watchdog.Credit:Jason South

“In many of our investigations, we do not find at its conclusion that a relevant offense has been committed, but we uncovered such fundamental institutional flaws. And that is the importance of integrity commissions. Anything that stands in the way of that, you have to look very carefully.”

Although the Andrews government increased IBAC’s powers in 2016 by removing the requirement that corrupt conduct be “serious” and adding the ability to investigate the offense of misconduct in public office, its jurisdiction is still more limited than ICAC’s.

Victoria’s IBAC would have been unable to investigate e.g. former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklianwho was investigated by the ICAC as to whether she breached the public trust or encouraged corrupt behaviour.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet in May announced a review of funding for his state’s key integrity agencies, exempting them from efficiency gains applied to other government departments. However, he stopped short of granting a request by ICAC for its funding to be made independent because of a “philosophical view” about the role of the executive.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy are preparing to fight an election campaign on integrity.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy are preparing to fight an election campaign on integrity. Credit:Fairfax Media

Victorian Attorney General Jaclyn Symes said IBAC had broad powers and the resources it needed to carry out its investigations effectively.

“We have delivered stronger powers and record funding to further support IBAC in these investigations,” Symes said. “This funding includes a near doubling of what IBAC received in 2015, with this year’s forward estimates to show an annual increase of more than $31 million.”

Rules for IBAC ensure that “a balance is maintained between allowing IBAC to carry out its important work and the proper protection of individual rights and their welfare,” she said.

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Shadow Attorney-General Michael O’Brien said the Coalition had committed to a number of reforms, including an extra $10 million to IBAC’s budget and giving it powers to conduct more public hearings.

“We strongly support IBAC having the funding and powers it needs to uncover and prevent serious corruption,” he said.

The Andrews government has been embroiled in several corruption scandals over the past eight years, including the recent joint IBAC and Ombudsman investigation, Operation Watts, which found two former Labor ministers misused public money for partisan activities.

The integrity agencies made negative findings against former ministers Adem Somyurek and Marlene Kairouz, but stopped short of recommending prosecution, saying the law was “gray” and that the duo had engaged in soft corruption.

In the meantime the government referred Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and his former chief of staff Mitch Catlin to IBAC this week after The age revealed Catlin asked wealthy Liberal donor Jonathan Munz to pay more than $100,000 for his private marketing business in addition to his taxpayer-funded salary.

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Javed Iqbal

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