Corruption reforms sought

IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich at the Operation Watts hearings in October.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman have written to Victorian political party leaders for recommendations on how to stop the misuse of public funds.

The watchdog authorities jointly stated they will recommend law reforms to strengthen Parliamentary accountability, particularly for breaches of MPs’ code of conduct.

At the recent IBAC Operation Watts hearings, it was alleged some Victorian MPs were directing taxpayer-funded electorate officers and ministerial advisers to do party-political work during work hours.

Among the people of interest were South-East based MPs and former ALP factional allies Adem Somyurek and Anthony Byrne.

State Ombudsman Deborah Glass said despite a package of reforms by Parliament after her ‘Red Shirts’ report in 2018, the existing laws and rules were “not robust enough” to prevent the misuse of public resources.

The inquiry heard that Parliament deliberately omitted reference to “party specific” work during the reforms.

IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich said “much of the evidence heard at the public hearings spoke about how taxpayer funds were directed to ministerial and electorate office staff to perform party‐political during work hours, rather than the job they were hired to do in performing ministerial or electorate work”.

IBAC and the VO are also “seeking clarity” on the MPs’ appointment process of electoral and ministerial staff, and whether the staffing allocation and electorate office budgets should be reduced.

The Operation Watts joint investigation by IBAC and the VO is ongoing, though public hearings have ended.

The report is expected to be released in 2022.