Welcome to the final edition of IBAC Insights for 2020. I reflect on what has been an extraordinary year, with remarkable challenges raised by the summer bushfires followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I commend the collective resilience of our Victorian community and acknowledge the service of our public sector and Victoria Police who worked hard to maintain and expand vital frontline and other services to Victorians during difficult circumstances.
IBAC's work to build corruption resistance and support the integrity of Victoria's public sector and police continued during the year, albeit largely while working from home. We continued to receive and respond to complaints and notifications of corruption and police misconduct, conduct major investigations including public hearings, as well as delivering a broad range of prevention and education activities as outlined in our 2019/20 annual report.
I am heartened that despite the COVID-19 pandemic – indeed, perhaps further strengthened by it – there is a healthy appetite from our public sector stakeholders for information on corruption risks and mitigation strategies. You will see in this edition of IBAC Insights links to our recent work with the public sector to highlight and address corruption risks during times of emergency management and crisis response.
Also in this edition we present articles from a range of specialists on maintaining integrity and corruption resistance during extraordinary as well as normal times.
Victoria's Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel's contribution highlights that increasing transparency in the provision of government information not only helps build or rebuild trust in organisations and elected officials – trust currently on the decline – but is integral to efforts to combat corruption. As Mr Bluemmel eloquently states, 'without transparency, we are in the dark on corruption'.
The role of human rights in government decision making is important in helping to protect integrity as outlined by John Croker, Principal Lawyer at Victoria Police. On the eve of Human Rights Day, Mr Croker explains how human rights must be central to all decisions made by government. He writes about the application of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, and unpacks how the public sector can ensure human rights are considered as an important way to support integrity in government decision making.
This year our engagement activities to raise awareness about corruption and what can be done to prevent it moved to virtual platforms. We were pleased to secure twice the number of participants in our virtual engagements compared to our traditional face-to-face approaches. We also continued our Victoria Police education program, providing training to new recruits and detectives. This work is complemented by ongoing engagement with the senior Victoria Police leadership team to support the continuing development and maintenance of a culture of integrity.
IBAC's public hearings and questions for Operation Sandon specialist witnesses
As public health directions allowed, and with the aid of a new virtual platform, IBAC held public hearings as part of two major investigations in recent months. Public hearings are important as they inform the community and the public sector about the impacts of corruption and critically, help identify actions to prevent it.
IBAC's Operation Esperance, an investigation into serious corrupt conduct during the tendering, procurement and management of major contracts within V/Line and Metro, included six days of public hearings in October. This was the first time IBAC conducted public hearings using a virtual hearing platform. The hearings attracted significant public interest, with more than 24,000 people watching the video stream on our website.
IBAC's Operation Sandon public hearings followed in November, running through to this month. The hearings, suspended in March as a public health precautionary measure, examine allegations of serious corrupt conduct in relation to planning and property development decisions at the Casey City Council.
Next week the Operation Sandon public hearings will hear from expert witnesses with specialist knowledge in planning, campaign donations, lobbying, and council governance. To support this process, IBAC invites interested stakeholders to submit questions which can be put to the expert witnesses when they appear at the hearings on 14-15 December. The public hearings for Operation Sandon conclude next week and IBAC will report to Parliament next year on the findings and recommendations of this major investigation.
New digital resources support corruption prevention
I am pleased to share IBAC's latest videos explaining IBAC's oversight of Victoria Police and how to report police misconduct to IBAC. More resources from IBAC and other integrity agencies can be found in our regular knowledge sharing wrap.
Operation Fitzroy was IBAC's first major investigation into serious corruption within the Victorian government. In echoes of matters explored in Operation Esperance, Operation Fitzroy exposed corruption involving senior officials within the Department of Transport and Public Transport Victoria who colluded with private businesses to award government contracts to businesses they were privately connected to. Now that all prosecutions related to this investigation are completed, we have produced a digital case study to provide a fresh look at how this investigation unfolded, what the outcomes were, and what can be done to prevent similar corruption risks in future. This is a useful resource for all Victorian public sector agencies wanting to learn the lessons of this significant investigation and importantly, how corruption like this may be prevented in their own agencies.
For some time I have publicly called for IBAC to be adequately funded to do the work required of us now and into the future. In the recent 2020-21 State budget, IBAC was allocated $27M over four years.
I am most cognisant, however, of the expectations of the community, Parliament and other stakeholders for IBAC to do more - to expand our independent oversight of Victoria Police, to increase the number of public sector corruption and police misconduct matters we investigate and review, and to provide more prevention and education initiatives. These increased service levels cannot be delivered, even with IBAC's recent allocation of funding.
There are also new legislative compliance monitoring functions and other requirements proposed for IBAC to improve oversight of Victoria Police's management of human sources following the final report and recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants, along with the Government's response to the 2018 report of the Parliament of Victoria Independent Broad‐based Anti‐corruption Commission Committee Inquiry into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria, expected in the New Year.
As Commissioner, it is perhaps my most important role to ensure IBAC has the powers and resources required to fulfil its legislative obligations. As calls on the agency to do more to expose and prevent corruption and police misconduct continue to grow, additional funding will clearly be required in coming years.
As IBAC's work over the past seven years, recent Royal Commissions and other inquiries, as well as the work of other integrity agencies in Victoria and across Australia, have established beyond doubt that corruption is complex and multifaceted and wherever it occurs, adversely impacts everyone. It is not a victimless crime. Corruption's impact goes beyond the consequences for corrupt individuals, the flow on impact on innocent colleagues who are implicated, or the damage to the good reputation of the organisations they work for. Ultimately, it is all members of our community who suffer as corruption erodes trust in the public sector to act in our best interests, and wastes taxes and rates earmarked for important community projects, resulting in poor quality services or infrastructure, or we miss out on these vital public services altogether. Investment by governments to ensure our integrity agencies are properly resourced to do their work, is necessary and prudent.
Looking ahead to 2021
In 2021, IBAC will develop its next three year strategic plan, covering 2021-24. This plan will identify key areas of focus for IBAC and help ensure our resources remain appropriately aligned with the areas of highest priority to have the greatest impact on exposing and preventing corruption and police misconduct.
Next year we will also roll out a reinvigorated prevention and education strategy, which will be informed by recommendations from the Parliamentary Integrity and Oversight Committee following its inquiry into the education and prevention functions of Victoria's integrity agencies. The Committee is scheduled to report on this inquiry by 30 June 2021.
We are also focussing on enhancing our engagement with communities who are marginalised, or experience vulnerability, to help build understanding of our work, and cultivate trust and confidence in reporting corruption or police misconduct to IBAC.
In closing, I express my thanks to Katie Miller, our Deputy Commissioner with lead responsibility for our police jurisdiction, who departed IBAC in November. Soon we will appoint an acting Deputy Commissioner while recruitment is undertaken to fill this important role. Ms Miller focussed on building IBAC's relationship with Victoria Police and played a key role in enhancing our relationship and engagement with a range of our key stakeholders. She leaves a lasting legacy at IBAC.
I warmly thank IBAC's Executive team and all staff for their hard work as well as their resilience, flexibility and ongoing dedication during a particularly difficult year. And I thank our stakeholders across the public sector, Victoria Police and the community for their cooperation and support during the year.
On behalf of everyone at IBAC, I wish our IBAC Insights readers a safe and happy festive season, and best wishes for 2021.
The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC
Read more in IBAC Insights Issue 26.