Allegations ‘not substantiated’ in matter referred to Ombudsman by parliamentary committee

 
Thursday 6 September 2018
 
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has recommended no further action be taken after investigating allegations referred to her by the Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee.
 
The allegations - made by the former Executive Principal of Parkville College (a school within the Parkville and Malmsbury youth justice centres), and referred to Ms Glass by the committee in December 2017 - were that:
 
  • During two telephone conversations in December 2016, the secretary of the Department of Education (DET) and another senior DET official attempted to influence the evidence the principal was to give in Supreme Court proceedings.
  • Information put forward by the State in the Supreme Court matter (involving young people being housed in Grevillea, a section of the adult Barwon Prison) and subsequent stay application was misleading.
  • The principal was investigated for misconduct by DET in reprisal for making requests to DET for additional funding for Parkville College, or giving evidence to the Supreme Court that was adverse to the government’s position.
 
After an investigation that involved interviews with 15 people and reviewing relevant email and text messages and other evidence obtained under summons, Ms Glass has found the allegations were not substantiated.
 
“There is no evidence the government misled the Supreme Court, or that the action later taken by the department against the principal was in retaliation for his evidence against them,” Ms Glass said.
 
She said while the calls to the principal were, in all of the circumstances, ‘injudicious’, they were not made with the intention of improperly influencing his evidence.
 
“There is no doubt the principal provided an email containing confidential information about young people in custody to the plaintiffs in the court proceedings, and the department’s initiation of misconduct proceedings against him was reasonable,” she said.
 
“There is also no doubt the principal felt intense pressure following the calls from his bosses in the days leading up to his appearance in the court case.
 
“The judgment of all involved can, in different respects, be called into question. All those involved are, however, human, and it is not surprising that human judgments made in the heat of the moment can be questionable.”
 
 
Please note: Ms Glass will not be available for interview regarding this investigation, due to its nature
and the requirement of parliamentary privilege.
 
Media contact: Ainslie Gowan | Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235 |  ainslie.gowan@ombudsman.vic.gov.au
 
Background
 
The allegations came about against a background of immense pressure for all parties involved, with riots at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct in November 2016 resulting in the government transferring young people to a hastily configured youth justice and remand centre (Grevillea) inside a maximum-security adult prison (Barwon).
 
The lawfulness of that transfer was the subject of Supreme Court proceedings, brought by Fitzroy Legal Service and the Human Rights Law Centre.
 
On 21 December 2016 the Court found among other things, that the Orders in Council establishing Grevillea were invalid and of no effect, and that the Minister’s recommendation to make the Orders in Council failed to give proper consideration to the human rights of young people to be detained at Grevillea.
 
After losing an appeal against the Court’s decision, the government re-gazetted Grevillea on 29 December 2016, addressing the issues the Court had identified with the original orders. Young people on remand continued to be housed at Grevillea until May 2017.