Integrity and Oversight Committee Report on the Performance of the Victorian Integrity Agencies 2020/21: Focus on Witness Welfare

22 Mar 2023

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I rise to speak on the report Performance of the Victorian Integrity Agencies 2020/21: Focus on Witness Welfare. This is a report that was referenced in the extraordinary letter that we are now all in receipt of or have all seen written to the Parliament by the former chair of IBAC Robert Redlich. Within this letter he raised a number of serious concerns around this particular report, particularly about the committee seeking information into current IBAC operations and the lack of procedural fairness offered to IBAC, in particular the cutting of the feed at the public hearing. There are also a number of other issues raised within that letter itself, particularly concerning the audit that the committee undertook into IBAC. Obviously, it is its job to undertake such audits, but the concern is around just exactly what the committee was seeking and trying to achieve within that audit itself.

At the heart of this letter and the concerns raised by the former chair is the government domination of the Integrity and Oversight Committee – essentially concerns that the government used its majority on this committee to attack or undermine the work of IBAC. Now, this is an issue – the government domination of not just this committee but other committees, important oversight committees – that the Greens have raised consistently, and in fact we moved a private members bill very early on in this Parliament to ensure non-government chairs for important oversight committees. It is not appropriate for key oversight committees to be government dominated. It gives rise to conflicts of interest. It gives rise to real or perceived government interference. This issue did give rise to the recent motion moved by the opposition in the upper house to have a select committee look into these matters that were raised in the letter by the former chair, and I think it was certainly a worthwhile reference and a worthwhile motion. What has transpired is that through discussions and negotiations with government the Greens have secured no government majority on that committee. That is gone, and there will be a non-government chair. That is a really important outcome, and that is what everyone, I hope – the Greens, the upper house crossbench and I would think the opposition too – is looking for: an outcome. I think what we are –

Cindy McLeish: We work hard.

Sam HIBBINS: That is good to know. Look, we are all looking for an outcome here, and I think this will be a significant improvement in terms of integrity in this state and the oversight of IBAC. It is important to note that the committee still will be empowered to look at matters arising, certainly matters that arose in the letter and the motion. That is a matter for the committee itself. I will mention in a previous Parliament, the 58th Parliament, I was on the IBAC committee, the previous iteration of the Integrity and Oversight Committee. It had a non-government chair, it was non-government dominated and it worked well.

I want to put on the record and acknowledge the member for Brunswick, our integrity portfolio holder, as well as our leader Samantha Ratnam in the other place, for the work that they have done in achieving this outcome. It is a really important outcome for integrity and oversight in this state. That committee undertakes really critical work not just looking into matters that may arise, such as have done recently, but also looking into the effectiveness of IBAC, the funding of IBAC, the legislative regime and what powers IBAC may need to do their job properly and to make sure that we have got a much more effective integrity regime in this state.

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