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Integrity and Oversight Committee


"Accountability matters and we cannot continue to disregard or undermine the institutions established to protect us against corruption, either directly through political denial and obstruction, or indirectly through underfunding integrity agencies."

The following is a speech made by Dr Tim Read - Greens MP for Brunswick on Wednesday the 17th of April, 2021. 

Dr READ:  I rise to speak to the Integrity and Oversight Committee’s report on the Inquiry into the Performance of Victorian Integrity Agencies 2017/18–2018/19. The report contains eight recommendations to strengthen Victoria’s integrity bodies, including increasing the accessibility and transparency of reporting to the public. It also stresses in the body of the report the need for greater funding for these agencies. Integrity in public office is central to the ongoing strength of Victoria’s democracy. Many Victorians say they do not trust politicians. One of the reasons we trust our doctors is that the medical board is breathing down their necks. Scrutiny allows trust. Airline pilots also work under close scrutiny, so we trust them. All MPs know the value of trust, so let us have more scrutiny.

Victoria’s integrity agencies have made valuable contributions, notably, the Ombudsman found the 2020 COVID-19 North Melbourne and Flemington public housing lockdown breached human rights. The Ombudsman has also investigated unlawful and wrong solitary confinement of children and young people in Victorian prisons. The clear message from these is that transparency, independent oversight and investigation are critical. Accountability matters and we cannot continue to disregard or undermine the institutions established to protect us against corruption, either directly through political denial and obstruction, or indirectly through underfunding integrity agencies.

IBAC has time and again illustrated its value to the Victorian community, exposing the banking school scandal in the Department of Education and Training as well as the ongoing corruption scandal involving Casey City Council and property developers, to name just a couple. Now it is tasked with investigating branch stacking within political parties. So how is it that IBAC has not received any increase to its recurrent funding since its inception in 2012? Its lack of resources limits its ability to hold public hearings, for example. Nowhere is the lack of resources for IBAC more obvious than with police oversight. It is pretty obvious that no-one, including police, should be allowed to mark their own home work, yet somehow police officers currently investigate up to 97 per cent of complaints lodged against themselves because IBAC simply does not have the funding to carry out investigations independently of police. This is not just an abstract issue. The lack of police accountability potentially affects everyone in the community. For example, there have been reports of complaints made by women who have experienced interpersonal violence from a police officer. Where do you turn when your abuser is part of the system meant to protect you? Tellingly, the committee reported, and I quote:

IBAC has indicated a desire to the Committee and publicly to increase its capacity to investigate serious police misconduct and public sector corruption. However, it has stated to the public and the Committee that this cannot happen without additional funding. IBAC expects its budget for 2019/20 to be fully exhausted and has flagged a reduction in operational activity if budgetary pressures continue to rise.

Yet still the Premier has personally rejected pleas for funding support from both the head of IBAC and the Ombudsman by publicly insisting that they already have the resources that they need.

Dare I ask: what have we got to lose by properly funding our integrity agencies that were created to prevent and investigate corruption? Funding and supporting our existing integrity agencies, such as the Ombudsman, is a preferable and more cost-effective alternative to endless royal commissions, by which time it is already far too late. So I look forward to the Victorian government implementing all of the recommendations of the committee’s report. More importantly, I also urge the government to bring the funding levels up to the levels requested by the Ombudsman and IBAC to ensure their agencies can do the job properly.

Finally, I just want to make a point about IBAC’s powers. The IBAC legislation has a narrow definition of corruption which does not include misconduct in public office, and IBAC can only investigate offences that would, if proven, constitute a relevant offence. Compare this to New South Wales’s more feared and better-known ICAC, which can investigate any activity that could adversely affect the exercise of official functions by public officials. In other words, more scrutiny—the sort of scrutiny that people working in professions that we trust have to endure, but in return they are rewarded with greater trust from the community.

 

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Dr Tim Read
Greens MP for Brunswick
17 March 2021
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