Premier and corruption-buster clash over funding to investigate police

A bipartisan parliamentary committee will call for more funding for Victoria's corruption watchdog after both the IBAC chief and the Ombudsman insisted the Andrews government had failed to adequately support their work.

Official sources have told The Age that neither agency can keep up with increasing demand, with serious corruption allegations being overlooked because of a lack of investigators and technical staff such as surveillance operatives.

IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC.

However, Premier Daniel Andrews has put himself at odds with the chiefs of the two integrity agencies – Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission head Robert Redlich and Ombudsman Deborah Glass – by insisting both have been given the resources they need.

The State Parliament's integrity and oversight committee, which is chaired by an Andrews government MP, is to report today that IBAC needs more resources to tackle police misconduct, as complaints continue to emerge about police investigating their own members.

Sources familiar with the the committee's work also said IBAC and the Ombudsman were being blocked by Attorney-General Jill Hennessy from disclosing to the committee how much additional funding they had privately requested from the government.

The early budget bids or additional funding requests made by both agencies, which official sources said were far greater than their ultimate allocations, have been described by Ms Hennessy in a November letter as cabinet in-confidence.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass.Credit:Simon Schluter

"The government is currently considering whether to claim executive privilege in relation to the agencies' budget submissions," Ms Hennessy wrote to the committee.

A spokesman for Mr Andrews said on Wednesday that IBAC had "received every cent it asked for in this year’s budget, and that "what IBAC includes in its budget bid is a matter for them".

"We’ve given IBAC additional powers and resources, and we’ll continue to work with the commission to ensure it can fulfil its critical statutory duties," the spokesman said.

However, a number of official sources who were not authorised to speak publicly have confirmed that IBAC scaled down its budget requests after state government warnings that the public sector needed to tighten its budget expectations because of COVID-19.

IBAC is also facing an increased workload as it oversees Victoria's new whistleblower scheme and is set to take on oversight of Victoria Police's informer management program, following the recent Lawyer X royal commission.

On Wednesday, The Age revealed that Mr Redlich had called on the state government to adequately fund his agency, warning that the failure to do so would undermine the fight against graft and police misconduct. Last week, Ms Glass also attacked the government for failing to fund her agency's investigative program.

Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien said the government was under-resourcing IBAC because IBAC was "examining Labor Party corruption". He accused the Premier of misleading the public about the government's support of the anti-graft body.

“I have been very clear that IBAC must be properly funded to do its job,” he said.

Mr Redlich said that even with a fresh $27.2 million four-year funding package announced in the state budget, IBAC would be hamstrung as it sought to tackle more cases of police misconduct and public service graft.

“These increased service levels cannot be delivered, even with IBAC’s recently allocation of funding,” he said.

IBAC has pushed the government for some time for increased funding to investigate more police misconduct and public service corruption. In 2019, the now former special minister of state Gavin Jennings was moving to meet its demands and increase IBAC's capacity, according to sources with knowledge of the issue. Mr Jennings' proposal was not backed by the Premier or Police Minister Lisa Neville.

On Monday, The Age revealed how a confidential IBAC assessment had found systemic failings with the police force’s handling of domestic violence cases involving police perpetrators. The underfunding of IBAC was also highlighted in the assessment.

The under-resourcing of IBAC was also at the centre of a 2018 bipartisan parliamentary committee report which called on the agency to be given far greater capacity to investigate serious police misconduct. It’s recommendations have not been acted on by the government.

The agency has taken on several major probes that have embarrassed the Andrews government and the opposition, including the Casey Council corruption scandal. IBAC is also investigating alleged abuse of taxpayer funds arising from the Adem Somyurek Labor branch-stacking affair as part of an inquiry likely to also draw in the Liberal Party.

Mr Redlich did not directly address the politics swirling around the debate about IBAC’s role in Victoria, but made it clear he felt his agency was not fully supported.

“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, corruption is complex and multifaceted and wherever it occurs, adversely impacts everyone.

"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.”

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