Special reports

Operation Clara

Operation Clara was an investigation by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) into the alleged corrupt conduct of Mr Theo Theophanous in his role on the board of the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA).

In January 2020, IBAC commenced Operation Clara to determine if a former Victorian Government Minister misused his public position on the board of the VPA to favour the Australian Education City (AEC) consortium in their East Werribee project proposal, or attempted to improperly influence public officers involved in the East Werribee project.

IBAC's investigation found Mr Theophanous improperly lobbied in favour of the AEC by failing to declare a conflict of interest or register the AEC as a client on the Victorian Register of Lobbyists. He tried to advance his private lobbying business by telling clients he had access to staff and information within the VPA,  sought payments from the AEC, and in lieu of direct payment for his lobbying activities, obtained other benefits from the AEC and a special adviser to the AEC, namely donations to his daughter's 2018 campaign for the State electorate of Northcote.

Operation Clara highlights the pressing need for reforms to the regulation of lobbying in Victoria and makes recommendations to ensure those regulations are in step with other states and territories.

  • Public officials make important decisions affecting the community. In making those decisions, it's vital that they consider a range of perspectives to ensure their decisions are made in the public interest.

    For this reason, there are laws and regulations to restrict how individuals or organisations can buy access or unfairly influence public decision-makers through lobbyists. These laws also ensure a degree of transparency in lobbying activity.  

    IBAC's Operation Clara special report examines the integrity risks associated with lobbying. It provides a clear example of a lack of transparency and a failure to disclose a conflict of interest. 

    Our report makes a set of recommendations to improve the regulation of lobbying in Victoria. Those recommendations build on the findings in our Special report on corruption risks associated with donations and lobbying, which we published late last year.

    Operation Clara was an IBAC investigation into alleged corrupt conduct by Mr Theo Theophanous in relation to a $31 billion development proposal for East Werribee.

    At the time, Mr Theophanous was a member of a government board that was responsible for advising the relevant minister on issues including the development and use of land in growth areas.

    He had previously served as a Victorian Government Minister and after leaving parliament, he established a lobbying business.

    We investigated his relationship with the Australian Education City consortium – this was the commercial body behind the East Werribee development proposal – and we examined whether, in the expectation of receiving a benefit for himself or for members of his family, he attempted to lobby public officers to make decisions favouring the AEC consortium. We also investigated whether he misused this position on the VPA Board.

    Our investigation found that Mr Theophanous did misuse his public position on the VPA board to assist the AEC consortium.

    We found that he lobbied ministers and departmental officers in favour of the AEC proposal but that he did not register AEC as a lobbying client and that he obscured his relationship with AEC.

    In his role as member of the VPA Board, he failed to declare his conflict of interest.

    He advanced his private lobbying business and he sought payments from the AEC for his lobbying activity.

    As a result of Operation Clara, we have made a set of recommendations to strengthen the regulation of lobbying in Victoria. 

    These include amendments to the formal guidelines and code of conduct for directors of public entity boards. The amendments specify that public entity board directors should not engage in lobbying activities in relation to matters that the entity is dealing with or that it may deal with in the future.

    Our recommendations also include amendments to the Lobbyist Code of Conduct to ensure that public entity board directors comply with conflict-of-interest requirements in relation to work they have done prior to their appointment to the board.

    A detailed list of the recommendations can be seen on our website.

    In October 2022 IBAC released our Special report on corruption risks associated with donations and lobbying in Victoria. The recommendations from this report were publicly supported by the Victorian Government.

    The recommendations from the Operation Clara special report build on those recommendations and provide a strong case for reform.

    IBAC has now provided the Operation Clara special report to parliament, and we look forward to working with government and stakeholders to effect much needed change to donations and lobbying regulation for all Victorians.

    I encourage you to visit our website to read the report and the recommendations in full.