Victoria’s state opposition has unveiled a pledge to increase funding for the state’s ombudsman and anti-corruption watchdog, to rebuild a ‘system of integrity and honesty in government’.
- Opposition says if it wins government it will increase IBAC’s budget by $10 million
- Government minister Ben Carroll says the pledge is ‘hollow’ and ‘hard to digest’
- Opposition unlikely to win government in November election, poll predicts
Under the opposition plan, the broad-based Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) would regain broader powers for public hearings.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said as part of the pledge, the Coalition would inject an additional $10 million into the IBAC budget per year and increase funding for the Victoria Ombudsman by $2 million dollars per year.
“We want to restore respect to these integrity watchdogs – that’s what Victorians expect of us.”
“The National Liberal Party is focused on rebuilding our system of integrity and honesty in government and the Andrews government is focused on denigrating and defunding them.”
Requests for additional funding for independent bodies is a recurring problem in Victoria, with the IBAC and the Ombudsman regularly claiming that they need more to operate effectively.
In last year’s budget, Treasurer Tim Pallas allocated $54 million for the IBAC — an increase from previous years — and $20.2 million for the ombudsman in fiscal year 2021. -22.
Mr. Pallas will present his next budget on Tuesday.
Opposition Affairs Director Kim Wells said Liberal and National policy would also involve changes to the Parliamentary Committees Act to allow the Joint Integrity and Oversight Committee to exercise budget oversight.
“Never again will they be subject to the whims of the Labor government or any future government,” she said.
“That will mean they will always be properly funded and will always be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny.”
Mr Guy said he would reverse a decision by the Andrews government which meant most IBAC hearings were now held in private.
He said it was done “to weaken IBAC oversight” and “to protect this government.”
The government already under surveillance
Labor won the 2018 state election in a landslide, and polls suggest the coalition is unlikely to win in the November 2022 vote.
But Mr. Guy’s election promise could shift the focus to integrity issues at a time when the government is already under scrutiny.
The Age newspaper recently reported that the IBAC was questioning Premier Daniel Andrews on issues such as branching and the misuse of public resources.
Quotes from the draft report, verified by the ABC, refer to an unethical culture of factional activity “constantly occurring” during its investigations.
Branch stacking issues within the party came to light due to the so-called ‘Red Shirts’ saga of 2014, which sparked a joint investigation between the IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman.
The investigation, known as Operation Watts, held public hearings as well as a number of private interviews.
Following the investigation, the ombudsman found in 2018 that Victorian Labor had misappropriated $388,000 of public funds to campaign. Labor has since repaid the funds.
On Thursday Mr Andrews declined to confirm whether he had been interviewed and said it would be ‘extremely inappropriate’ for him to comment on a report which had not yet been published.
However, he confirmed that a draft report stemming from Operation Watts had been sent to those involved in the investigation.
Mr Guy has accused the Andrews government of corruption.
“The Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission, the Auditor General, the Ombudsman have all flagged instances of corrupt behavior – whether impropriety or outright corruption,” he said.
“That’s what we see with this government.”
A Commonwealth Integrity Commission is a federal electoral matter. ABC Vote Compass figures show that almost half of Australians think corruption is “really a problem” in the country, and more than a third think it is “quite a problem”.
Government calls announcement ‘hollow’
Government Minister Ben Carroll defended the government’s record on funding and criticized the federal Liberal Party’s failure to set up a promised national integrity body.
“Under our government, we are investing record amounts of money in the broad-based Independent Anti-Corruption Commission, they have important work to do on integrity, and I hope that, you know, at the federal level, we have a similar approach body as soon as possible,” he said.
Mr Carroll said it was ‘a bit difficult to accept the Leader of the Opposition calling for changes within the IBAC’.
He referenced the now infamous ‘Lobster with a Gangster’ dinner party which saw Mr Guy refer to the IBAC.
“Their announcement is really a hollow announcement, while they were in power before, they never funded the IBAC to the extent of what it needed. As part of our investments, the IBAC had a record investment,” Mr. Carroll said.
He said the legislation governing the IBAC would “continue to be reviewed” for potential improvements.