Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission Amendment (Investigative Functions) Bill 2011

In commencing my contribution I just want to indicate what a superb analysis that was by the member for Altona. Can I say that there is no need for the member for Altona to use a bazooka; she has comprehensively demolished many aspects of and pointed out what we regard as significant deficiencies in the bill.

We genuinely put them before the Parliament and hope that the government, either by way of response today or while the bill is between the houses, takes the opportunity to reflect on what we believe is genuine commentary and a genuine assessment of what we think are quite significant deficiencies in this bill. I could not seek to emulate the efforts of the member for Altona. In my contribution I will seek — not surprisingly, of course — to concentrate more on how this bill will interact with the local government sector. It is an important sector, and obviously the purview of this bill covers local government.

One of the interesting aspects of this bill, as was pointed out by my colleague the member for Altona, is that the threshold for the investigation of matters by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruptioon Commission (IBAC), whether on its own motion or in response to complaints and requests for investigation, are comparatively high when compared with what applies in New South Wales.

Members will remember that before the election the government clearly indicated it was seeking to emulate both the structure and powers that attend to the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is openly concluded that fewer matters than in New South Wales will fall within the jurisdiction of the Victorian IBAC in the first instance, or that fewer matters which are investigated by IBAC will be found to have included or constituted corrupt conduct within the definitions in this bill. As to the threshold of an indictable offence, the test being serious corrupt conduct, I think we will have to pause and wait to see how IBAC conducts its business going forward.

The bill defines relevant offences as an indictable offence or any of the following common-law offences committed in Victoria: attempting to pervert the course of justice, bribery of a public official or perverting the course of justice.

In that context I note that the second-reading speech indicates that the broad purview of the IBAC includes ministers, members of Parliament, ministerial advisers, parliamentary officers, all police personnel, the judiciary, local government and a broad range of other public officers and bodies. The second-reading speech goes on to say that for the first time in Victoria’s history virtually the entire public sector will be overseen by a single expert anticorruption body, the IBAC.

The issue for us lies in what the interface is going to be between the IBAC and the investigatory bodies that currently exist in Victoria. How will the IBAC intersect with the Ombudsman and the work of the Ombudsman? And from my point of view, and more specifically, how will the IBAC intersect with the existing work of the local government inspectorate and compliance unit? Those who recall the history of the development of the local government inspectorate will recall that it was instigated by the previous government and was broadly supported by both sides of the Parliament, because it was seen as important that the minister and government of the day, regardless of the current government and current opposition, ought to step back from any investigatory procedures that attended local government.

That is a very important principle. As we know, the genesis of this initiative was in part the Ombudsman’s report into the Brimbank City Council.

The government had acted decisively in relation to the Brimbank matter, but it also recognised it was important that government step back from such investigations, that the minister of the day have no relationship with the relevant investigatory body and that the reporting mechanism in the investigations be such that were a matter investigated and found to be a criminal one it would be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for further investigation and subsequent prosecution. We think that is a very appropriate structure.

The issue for us is that this is now no longer clear to us. The second-reading speech indicates that there will be a further tranche of legislation introduced this year that will provide the mechanisms for the IBAC to refer matters it receives that do not fit within the definition of corrupt conduct to other, or more appropriate, bodies.

The presumption I come to this conversation with is that that may well refer to the local government inspectorate and compliance unit, but we do not know. We simply do not know whether that is the case. Will the investigatory powers that currently attend the local government inspectorate remain the same? Will they be complementary to the IBAC’s? Will they be watered down? We do not know the answer.

On one level the government says, ‘That will be clarified on the way through’, but from the point of view of the local government sector there is very significant concern and confusion about what this all looks like as we go forward. I know that you, Acting Speaker, as the member for Mornington, have also done a lot of work in the local government sector and that you will have received the same feedback I have. People are seeking clarity as to what the role of the IBAC is, what the role of the Ombudsman will be and what the future role of the local government inspectorate will be going forward.

In that context I would put to you, Acting Speaker — because you will be taking up some of these matters — the question: what will be the investigative purview of the local government inspectorate? Will it continue to deal with breaches of the Local Government Act 1989 as it has done in the past? What will be the intersection between the compliance unit, potentially the Ombudsman and the IBAC — recognising of course that the IBAC’s threshold is serious, corrupt conduct? What will be done with issues such as conflict of interest? What will be the future role of the local government inspectorate in terms of the crucial functions it has, such as its auditing function and its function of ensuring that the 79 local government councils across the state are complying with their obligations under the Local Government Act 1989? Who will undertake the crucial educative role which is so much a part of the local government inspectorate’s work? These are all crucial and legitimate questions on which the bill currently before us is completely silent.

We find ourselves tonight with the second piece of legislation we have debated in relation to the IBAC. The first essentially constituted the framework. It was rushed in by the government so it could say, ‘Here we are; the IBAC’s on its way’. The government rushed it in to cover up what was a very sordid time in the history of this Parliament, when the Crossing the Line report was open to the glare of public attention. The government said, ‘My God, we have to have something to bring into the Parliament. We’re going to have the IBAC, and here’s the framework’. We all saw what that was.

Mr McGuire — Just a gesture and no substance.

Mr WYNNE — As my colleague the member for Broadmeadows says, it was just a gesture and no substance.

Now at least we have a bit of meat on the bones in terms of some of the powers that will attend the IBAC, but so many questions remain unanswered, particularly, from my perspective, in relation to the local government sector, which is desperately seeking guidance. We have the council elections coming up in October, and people who are seeking to stand for local government want to know what sort of structure they will be operating under. Currently this government is silent in that space.