Victoria State Government
Ill-Informed Attack By The Age
Victor P Taffa
In recent days, The Age has engaged in a sustained attack on the Victorian Coalition Government over a provision in the new IBAC legislation.
The section relates to a clause in the IBAC (Investigative Functions) Bill 2011 which provides discretion for the IBAC Commissioner to make recommendations in relation to a matter arising out of an investigation to a principal government officer, Minister or the Premier.
According to The Age this is variously “bad law” which “hides corrupt acts”, “the government is seeking a way to keep some inquiries from the public”, covering up “politically embarrassing or damaging findings” and “corruption investigations may stay secret”. Of course, The Age also endorses the Opposition spokesperson Jill Hennessy’s ill-informed declaration that under this provision “reports will be hidden and only the government will have access to reports about itself.”
The truth of course is nothing of the sort. The clause of the Bill that seems to have excited some at The Age is clause 83 which gives discretion to the IBAC Commissioner to make recommendations arising out of an investigation to the relevant principal government officer, Minister or the Premier. The Commissioner, should they choose, can also make any recommendation or finding public and place them in a report to Parliament.
The provision to allow the Commissioner to provide a recommendation directly to the relevant senior person is a standard clause that exists for oversight and integrity bodies. The provision provides discretion to the Commissioner.
For example, in the event that the Commissioner determines during the course of an investigation that he has identified a minor disciplinary breach, but not a serious act of corruption, the Commissioner may be of the view that it can best be handled through internal disciplinary processes and that the full force of public reporting by IBAC is neither warranted nor appropriate.
Equivalent provisions currently exist in legislation governing the Ombudsman and the OPI, first introduced by Labor. Similar provisions exist for the ICAC in NSW, the Crime and Misconduct Commission in Qld, the Corruption and Crime Commission in WA and the Integrity Commission in Tasmania. Internationally, similar provisions exist in other integrity bodies such as in New Zealand and Canada.
Because of the serious nature of IBAC corruption investigations, integrity bodies contain these provisions to ensure that public servants who may have committed a minor disciplinary breach do not have their careers and sometimes lives ruined.
It appears throughout Australia and internationally everybody associated with integrity bodies understands this, except, of course, The Age.
The attacks by The Age are ill-informed.