INDEPENDENT BROAD-BASED ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION AMENDMENT (INVESTIGATIVE FUNCTIONS) BILL 2011
I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Amendment (Investigative Functions) Bill 2011. Unlike the previous speaker I will be focusing on the provisions of the bill. I understand why those opposite are agitated and unable to focus on the content of this bill, given the embarrassment that has been served up by those on their front bench.
Not to put too fine a point on it, one would have expected that this contribution, and indeed all the contributions on this bill, would have been made many months ago — in the first half of last year to be exact. That would have been consistent with the time frame established by the government in its pre-election promises about when Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission would be up and running. In fact to see that, members do not have to look any further than page 3 of the document entitled The Victorian Liberal Nationals Coalition Plan for Integrity of Government, which was part of its policies and plans for the 2010 election and which says in absolute black and white and as clear as day: ‘IBAC will be operational on 1 July 2011’. There is no mention of planks, a step-by-step approach or further tranches of legislation.
As we are all aware — or at least some of us; those on this side of the house as opposed to those on the other — it is 8 February 2012. Yet here I stand making my second contribution to the debate on the IBAC process, speaking on this latest but by no means last tranche of provisions before the house in what has become a painful and stuttering legislative journey built on shifting sands and doublespeak.
Perhaps the Victorian community could forgive the delays and the debacles in this journey if the government demonstrated that it was delivering the system it so often promised. It was not just quietly promised, either.
It was screamed from the rooftops, nailed to the mast in streaming colours and set up by those opposite as an absolute benchmark by which they said they should be judged — and judged they will be! This was a flagship promise, and Victorians are entitled to expect this promise to be fulfilled.
Does this latest set of provisions deliver that outcome? Does this bill give the Victorian people what they were told so often was coming? No, it does not. In fact midnight has struck and this flagship policy has been unveiled as a rusty, leaking tugboat. At best this bill is just another ragged jigsaw piece in an incomplete puzzle. It raises more questions than it answers.
As previous speakers on this side of the house have so aptly pointed out, we were told repeatedly by this government that the reason for the long delays in implementing its promises on IBAC was that we needed to get the model right, but what was the model that was promised by the coalition and that the minister said he was endeavouring to get right? Again, we can return to the very source of the promises made by the coalition prior to the election, The Victorian Liberal Nationals Coalition Plan for Integrity of Government, for illumination. I quote again from page 3 of the document:
- The Liberal-Nationals coalition’s independent broadbased anticorruption commission to be known as IBAC will be modelled most closely on New South
Wales’s Independent Commission Against Corruption …
So in Coalition Pre-election Promise Land, a warm and fuzzy place of clear blue skies and fluffy clouds, we had distinct and oft-repeated undertakings that IBAC (a) will be operational by 1 July 2011 and (b) will be most closely modelled on the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). But what we have been given in Coalition Government Reality Land — a cold and lonely place of secrets, scandals and sluggishness — is a half-baked custard. This measure is late, incomplete and notably different from what was promised.
The first and most stark issue is that we still do not have the whole picture of what the IBAC will eventually look like, despite the fact that it is running months and months behind schedule. Secondly, the bits that have been revealed by this latest suite of provisions reveal a vastly different entity from that which was so firmly promised.
One does not have to reach too far into the provisions of this bill to see some stark differences between the ICAC model, upon which IBAC was supposed to be closely based, and the amorphous floating balloon of bits and pieces that this IBAC is fast becoming.
Let us look, for example, at the definitions and thresholds for both the investigation and findings of corruption powers that are proposed for IBAC. Under the legislation before us today, the Victorian IBAC’s powers will be limited to investigations of serious corruption that, if proved, would constitute an indictable offence. This is a tough threshold test in anyone’s language, and it gives IBAC a much narrower capacity to investigate corrupt activity than the New South Wales ICAC enjoys.
Further and of particular note is that the proposed legislation does not extend IBAC’s jurisdiction to the common-law offence of misconduct in public office, except with regard to police misconduct. This limitation will not only significantly curtail IBAC’s investigative capacity but it is in direct contradiction to what the coalition promised in the lead-up to 2010 election. To see that, we need look no further than the coalition’s own policy promises missive, The Victorian Liberal Nationals Coalition Plan for Integrity of Government. On page 4 this document outlines that the promised IBAC will be charged ‘with responsibility for exposing and preventing corruption’. It also clearly states that public sector corruption:
- … may involve a criminal offence or a disciplinary offence that could lead to a dismissal.
The policy document goes on to assert that the function of the IBAC is to investigate any allegation or complaint of corrupt conduct — except that, of course, was the IBAC of the bright and breezy Coalition Pre-election Promise Land, not the gloomy and duplicitous Coalition Government Reality Land in which we find ourselves today. The fact is that this IBAC — the IBAC proposed by this bill, this watery, pale, indeed jaundiced version of IBAC that has been served up in Coalition Government Reality Land — will not be investigating any allegation or complaint of corrupt conduct, including conduct involving a disciplinary offence, at all. No! Its remit will be far narrower in scope and its reach will be significantly more curtailed than what Victorians were led to believe in 2010.
Further, and on a particularly odious note, the powers and obligations set out in this bill mean that members of the public may never actually be made aware of any investigations of corrupt conduct by IBAC. They will not be told about private recommendations that IBAC may make to a public officer, minister or the Premier. In very real and practical terms, it appears that the various issues that were addressed in last year’s Crossing the Line report would not be made public if they were investigated by IBAC in accordance with the provisions of this bill. Some matters previously made public in Ombudsman’s reports would be unlikely to be published in IBAC reports.
This is not openness, and it is not transparency. This is a government trying to cover up a very exposed rear end with some tattered cloth and in the process further compounding its lack of integrity by welching on its promises.
All this is against the backdrop of the government refusing to release its advisory report on this most important institution. It all comes at the end of a long line of extraordinary actions on the part of this government and members of its team, who have seen confidence in public institutions dramatically eroded.
As the member for Altona and shadow minister for the anticorruption commission pointed out, these included: the actions of senior members of this government that were the subject of the recent extraordinary Office of Police Integrity report Crossing the Line; the failure to introduce a comprehensive ministerial code of conduct, despite repeated promises to do so; the weak and watery excuse for FOI reform that was served up during this very parliamentary sitting, coupled with the clear practice of this government since it was sworn in of stonewalling FOI processes; and the many unanswered questions about Liberal fundraising activities in this state.
Unfortunately this latest tranche of proposed IBAC legislation will do very little to reassure the community that the government has any intention of fully honouring the pledges it made so solemnly to Victorians prior to the 2010 election, including the promise that it would be open, transparent and accountable.
When the complete story of this IBAC is finally revealed by this government, the opposition will continue to hold this government to account to ensure that the body that eventually becomes operational — hopefully in our lifetimes — is exactly what the government pledged it would be. On current form we do not hold out much hope that this flagship policy will be delivered by this shaky lot.