IBAC held public hearings in October and November 2021 into allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including Members of Parliament. The hearings were part of Operation Watts, a joint investigation between IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman, which looked into 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 scope and purpose of the public hearings was to investigate:

  1. Whether public officers, including Victorian Members of Parliament, are engaging in corrupt conduct while in public office by directing ministerial and electorate office staff to perform party‐political work during times when those staff are paid from public funds to perform ministerial or electorate work.
  2. Whether public money granted to community associations by the Victorian government has been misused to fund party‐political activities or for other improper purposes and, if so, whether the Ministers or other public officers involved in granting the funds have dishonestly performed their functions as public officers or have knowingly or recklessly breached public trust.
  3. The circumstances surrounding any actual or potential personal benefits obtained by any public officer, their families or their associates, resulting from, or otherwise in connection with the use of ministerial and electorate office staff to perform party‐political work or grants made to community associations.
  4. The systems and controls in place to monitor the expenditure of public funds for ministerial and electorate office staff and the making of community grants and the extent to which organisational culture and practices have fostered that conduct or hindered opportunities or attempts to detect and eliminate that conduct.

The hearings were presided over by IBAC's Commissioner The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC. Counsel assisting was Chris Carr SC of the Victorian Bar.

  • Week 1

    • Monday, 11 October
      Anthony Byrne
    • Tuesday, 12 October
      Anthony Byrne (continuing)
      Ellen Schreiber
    • Wednesday, 13 October
      Adam Sullivan


    Week 2

    • Monday, 18 October
      Rick Garotti
    • Tuesday, 19 October
      Rick Garotti (continuing)


    Week 3

    • Monday, 1 November
      Christine Kelly
    • Wednesday, 3 November
      Kirsten Psaila 


    Week 4

    • Monday 8 November - Friday 12 November (no public hearings on Wednesday 10 November)
      Adem Somyurek
  • Media contact

    0427 480 840 or media@ibac.vic.gov.au

  • This report sets out the findings of the first ever joint investigation conducted by IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman. We agreed to conduct this together following two referrals; from the attorney general to IBAC and from the Legislative Council to the Ombudsman following allegations of branch stacking involving misuse of public funds by certain moderate Labor members of parliament.

    We emphasize that allegations of branch stacking on their own are not matters for integrity agencies. Our investigation was into how branch stacking resulted into the alleged misuse of public funds for party political purposes and subversion of parliamentary standards and processes. 

    The evidence public and private painted a compelling picture of jobs on the public purse according to factional loyalty and widespread misuse of public resources for political purposes.

    Our report illustrates a catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behaviour and concerning practices and the environment in which such behaviour was able to flourish. They range from the hiring of unqualified people into publicly funded roles; using those roles to support factional work; nepotism; forging signatures; bullying behaviours; and attempts to interfere with government grants.

    It was generally accepted in evidence that the culture allowing branch stacking to continue for so long gave rise to the real risk of corruption but proof of the broader problem was more anecdotal. 

    The evidence of branch stacking was not limited to one faction but the evidence of misconduct only concerned the moderate Labor faction of the ALP. We had no specific evidence that allowed us to determine the extent of misuse by any other faction or make further findings of misconduct.

    We concluded that two members of parliament breached one or more elements of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and the Member of Parliament's Code of Conduct. While we saw the evidence of disturbing practices engaged in by staff, most of who knew what they were doing was wrong, primary responsibility rests with the Members of Parliament 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. Above all, we criticize a legislative framework that provides few if any consequences for abusing public resources and that allows such conduct to continue unchecked.

    We have carefully considered whether the identified misconduct constituted criminal offending which should be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Ultimately, while we consider the conduct to be egregious, the difficulties in proof and the state of the law are such that we cannot recommend prosecution.

    The investigation did not uncover examples of what we might term traditional or black corruption, in which a public decision maker dishonestly exercises their powers for their own private gain or reward. The investigation was firmly within the zone of grey or soft corruption in which decisions are made and rules are broken or bent for the benefit of a decision makers friends, political organizations or networks. Grey corruption is characterized by questionable behaviour and decision making involving a breach of integrity standards that does not necessarily amount to criminal conduct. However, its effect on public confidence in democracy and its institutions is deeply damaging.

    It will now be a matter for Parliament's privileges committees to decide whether the MPs have wilfully brought discredit upon Parliament. But the case for meaningful reform is now both compelling and urgent. My redshirts report highlighted the need for reform in 2018. The response was tepid and this report highlights how little has changed.

    This investigation has exposed the continuing weaknesses of the Victorian parliamentary integrity model, especially the absence of an effective framework with which to support and enforce standards. Trust in our politicians is declining and will decline further if real action is not taken.

    Such action must include the clearest standards reflected unambiguously in codes of conduct, effective controls, and the cultural alignment to support those standards and controls. We propose a new Parliamentary Ethics Committee and an independent Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner. A new framework would include sanctions for breaches of standards and regular audit of Member of Parliament's use of allowances. Such a framework draws on the best parliamentary integrity models elsewhere in Australia and around the world and would give Victoria the chance to lead the country once again.

    This is not the first scandal to damage public confidence in our elected representatives and if the opportunity for reform is not seized and acted upon, it will not be the last.

    Despite the findings of this report we believe most members of parliament, whatever their political affiliation, genuinely seek to advance the public interest. We encourage them to demonstrate this by supporting these reforms.