Victoria’s outgoing anti-corruption chief has called on the Andrews government to share power with the opposition and crossbench as part of a proposed overhaul of influential parliamentary committees.
Outgoing Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) boss Robert Redlich made the request in December in his parting missive to parliament’s lower house speaker and upper house president.
One of the final acts of Robert Redlich was to call on the government to overhaul the make up of parliamentary committees. Credit:Jason South
The opposition and Greens are now demanding release of the letter, arguing it should have been available to MPs last month as the government appointed members to committees in the new post-election parliament.
Redlich has refused to comment publicly about the mystery letter. The Greens say there is no doubt he intended that the correspondence be forwarded to all MPs — a proposition disputed by the speaker and president, who say the letter was marked “sensitive” and gave no indication it should be distributed to parliamentarians.
Redlich was especially concerned about the Integrity and Oversight Committee which oversees agencies including IBAC and Ombudsman Victoria and, importantly, has veto powers over the appointment of the new IBAC commissioner.
Opposition and crossbench MPs are concerned the government will want to appoint a more compliant commissioner and that Labor’s dominance of the integrity committee will make that possible.
Sources familiar with the letter say it also contains sensitive information about alleged interference by a subcommittee of the Labor-dominated integrity committee, in an independent audit of IBAC last year by Canberra-based firm, Callida Pty Ltd.
Relations between the government and IBAC have been tense as the watchdog concluded a series of potentially damaging investigations — some involving interrogations of Premier Daniel Andrews — and as Redlich grew increasingly outspoken in the later months of his five-year term.
Government ministers and MPs have privately been scathing of Redlich’s foray into the political arena, and say that the ‘soft corruption’ he focused on — including Labor branch-stacking — was outside his jurisdiction.
In an interview with Sunday Age columnist Jon Faine in December, Redlich publicly flagged his plan to “place before both houses”, IBAC’s concerns about parliamentary committees. His public comments indicate he meant his letter to be distributed to all MPs.
He said he would request that no single party be allowed an overall majority on the committee and that the chair of the integrity committee not be from the party in government.
Redlich told Faine his proposed changes were aimed at ensuring decisions made by the committee could not carry with them “the perception that the decision was made for a partisan reason”.
After becoming aware of the letter in February, Greens leader Samantha Ratnam formally asked the presiding officers — lower house speaker Maree Edwards and upper house president Shaun Leane — for its release.
She said she was confident Redlich intended the letter to be distributed to all MPs and that failure to release information clearly intended for MPs, “corrodes our democracy”. “Failure to pass the letter on to MPs could be seen as the executive having influence over Victoria’s supposedly independent parliamentary functions.”
But the two MPs refused the request, noting that Redlich had written specifically to them and that the letter had been marked ‘sensitive’. They also explained in a letter to Ratnam that the presiding officers had a long-standing practice of treating received correspondence as confidential.
“I’m not the mailman for an ex-IBAC commissioner,” Leane told The Age. “Every MP has got their addresses publicly available if any member of the public wanted to send them an email.”
Edwards said Redlich had not requested his letter to be distributed to MPs. She said if anyone were to call into question the independence of the speaker and president, such an allegation would be disturbing and defamatory.
Shadow special minister for state and upper house MP David Davis said the opposition would next week request that Leane circulate the letter to all Legislative Council MPs.
IBAC also refused to release the letter to The Age. The watchdog failed to respond directly to questions, with a spokesperson only prepared to say that: “IBAC’s views on the composition of the Parliamentary Integrity and Oversight Committee are a matter of public record.”
President Shaun Leane says he is not the “mailman for an ex IBAC commissioner”. Credit:Eddie Jim
Ratnam said IBAC’s refusal to release the letter also raised concerns that the watchdog may be fearful of an all-powerful Labor government. “We need to do everything we can in Victoria to ensure that our integrity agencies are not pressured or intimidated by the government of the day.”
The chair of the seven-member integrity committee has not been chosen but, like in the previous parliament, Labor will have four MPs on the committee, the opposition two spots and the crossbench, one. Under the Parliamentary Committees Act, the members of the committee elect the chair.
Centre for Public Integrity research director Catherine Williams said that she had not seen Redlich’s letter. “However, as a matter of logic it is difficult to see how it would not have been intended for those responsible for committee arrangements and potential reform — all members of the Victorian Parliament,” she said.
“If such an intention is evident from the letter’s contents, it should indeed be provided to parliamentarians.”
The Greens now have a bill before the upper house to amend the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003 to ensure neither the chair nor more than half of the members of five key investigatory committees — including the integrity committee — are from the governing party.
Last month, the opposition unsuccessfully moved in the lower house to ensure the chair of the integrity committee was not from the governing party.
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