Joint IBAC and VO report highlights widespread misuse of public resources for political purposes
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) and the Victorian Ombudsman (VO) have tabled a special report in Parliament today on Operation Watts, a joint investigation into allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including Members of Parliament (MPs).
The joint investigation examined a range of matters including allegations of misuse of electorate offices, ministerial office staff and resources for branch stacking and other party-related activities.
The report illustrates a catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behaviour ranging from the hiring of unqualified people into publicly funded roles, using those roles to support factional work, nepotism, forging signatures, bullying and attempts to interfere with the government grants process.
IBAC Commissioner The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC said the misconduct by parliamentary members in their appointment of staff to pursue factional agendas was deeply concerning.
"Through the Operation Watts public hearings, we saw behaviours and actions on display that are clearly not in alignment with what the community rightfully expects of our decision-makers.
"We concluded that two Members of Parliament breached one or more elements of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and the MPs' Code of Conduct.
"While we saw evidence of disturbing practices engaged in by staff, most of whom knew what they were doing was wrong, primary responsibility rests with the MPs for whom they worked and their factional leaders.
"The unethical culture that was such a feature of this investigation, whether as an explanation or excuse for bad conduct, lies at its heart."
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said: "My 'Red Shirts' report highlighted the need for reform in 2018 - and this report highlights how little has changed.
"The current legislative framework provides few, if any, consequences for abusing public resources and allowed the conduct we revealed in this investigation to continue unchecked. Trust in our politicians is declining and will decline further if real action is not taken. The case for meaningful reform is now both compelling and urgent.
"The majority of Members of Parliament genuinely seek to advance the public interest. We strongly encourage them to demonstrate this by supporting these reforms."
A key recommendation arising from the report is the establishment of a Parliamentary Ethics Committee and a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner.
Further recommendations cover reforms to the Department of Parliamentary Services and electorate officers' employment arrangements, improving accountability arrangements for MPs and Ministers, including updates to the Ministerial Staff Code of Conduct, and improving grant management frameworks for State and local government funders of community organisations.