Opposition launches IBAC funding push to let voters ‘know the truth’

Opposition launches IBAC funding push to let voters ‘know the truth’

The Victorian opposition will push the Andrews government to increase its funding of integrity watchdogs after IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich complained he had been gagged during a parliamentary inquiry.

On Wednesday David Davis, the leader of the opposition in the upper house, will move a motion arguing for the cash injection to ensure the agencies can complete inquiries before the November state election.

David Davis, the opposition’s leader in the upper house, will move the motion on Wednesday.Credit:Joe Armao

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Ombudsman have both previously complained about their funding security, but the government has rejected this criticism.

“It is hard not to conclude that squeezing the funding is designed by Labor to put the brakes on the embarrassing corruption investigations,” Davis said in a statement.

Last month The Age revealed Premier Daniel Andrews had been secretly grilled by IBAC as part of the Operation Watts investigation into Labor MPs’ misuse of public resources.

The Australian later revealed Andrews was questioned privately as part of Operation Sandon, which is investigating alleged corrupt land deals in Casey.

IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich says the cost of a ‘fully funded’ IBAC would be “astronomical”.

In his motion, Davis noted Labor MP Harriet Shing had blocked Redlich from speaking freely at a parliamentary inquiry into integrity agencies and their treatment of witnesses this month.

Redlich was asked why Andrews was questioned in private, prompting Shing, chair of the committee, to cut the livestream and reminded members not to speak about individual matters.

Redlich complained in a letter to the committee and asked for another opportunity to speak.

Shing said the committee was prohibited from reviewing IBAC’s investigations and decisions.

“These provisions rightly protect the integrity and independence of Victoria’s integrity agencies while subjecting them to necessary, but properly limited, oversight,” Shing said in a statement.

IBAC tends to hold public hearings only if it has strong evidence the witness has acted corruptly.

Davis said Shing’s intervention in the hearing was unacceptable, as was IBAC’s funding.

“It would be completely unacceptable and a blot on democracy if Labor’s funding straitjacket was to make it difficult for the agencies to report as fully as possible before the November state election,” he said. “Labor is desperate to clamp the agencies and prevent the public knowing the truth before they vote.”

The government provided an extra $32.1 million to IBAC in this year’s budget and boosted the Victorian Inspectorate’s base funding by $15.8 million.

The government also agreed to a treasurer’s advance of $700,000 as agreed to by the Ombudsman.

A government spokeswoman said “IBAC has broad powers to effectively conduct its investigations and the resources it needs to undertake that work. We’ve delivered stronger powers and record funding to further support IBAC in these investigations.

“We continue to work closely with Victoria’s integrity agencies to ensure they have the powers they need.”

The opposition was in talks with the crossbench on Tuesday afternoon. If Davis’ motion succeeds, it would not force the government to act.

The government does not have a majority in its own right in the upper house and has previously enjoyed support from a handful of non-government MPs.

But that has been derailed by a growing crossbench after Kaushaliya Vaghela and Adem Somyurek were dumped from the Labor Party.

The government has lost votes in the upper house as a result. Former NSW and Commonwealth ombudsman John McMillan is investigating the politicisation of the public service as a result of a successful motion put forward by Somyurek earlier this year.

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