IBAC and Victorian Ombudsman warn prompt reform needed one year on from Watts Report

Date posted:

The Victorian Ombudsman and IBAC tabled Operation Watts Progress report in parliament today.

Operation Watts was the first joint investigation conducted by IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman. It scrutinised how branch stacking in the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) resulted in the alleged misuse of public funds for party political purposes, and subversion of parliamentary standards and processes. The investigation report was tabled in the Parliament in July 2022.

The report sets out the steps taken by the state government in addressing the recommendations raised by IBAC and the Ombudsman in their Operation Watts investigation report. Many of the integrity risks exposed by Operation Watts require timely treatments and careful consideration given to the intent of the recommendations.

The report shows good progress in some areas. But while the government has allocated over $8 million and staff from within the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) tasked with drafting the necessary legislation, it has not yet indicated a timeframe for its introduction to Parliament beyond reiterating the commitment to implement key reforms by June 2024, nor has it consulted with IBAC or the Ombudsman on the provisions of any draft bill.

IBAC and the Ombudsman welcome the progress to date, but given the gravity and volume of misconduct that was catalogued in the Watts report, impress upon the government the importance of implementing the recommendations in full and without delay.

List of recommendations:

1. Establishing a Parliamentary Ethics Committee

2. Establishing a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner

3. Role of the Privileges Committees

4. Role of the Parliamentary Integrity Adviser (PIA)

5. Commitment to establish a Parliamentary Ethics Committee and Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner

6. Role of Parliamentary Ethics Committee and Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner

7. Broader prohibition on party-specific activities for Electorate Officers

8. New offence for MPs who allow staff to undertake party-specific activities

9. Review and publication of Electorate Officer Code of Conduct (EO Code)

10. Prohibition on employment of family members as electorate officers

11. Role of Department of Parliamentary Services

12. Recruitment processes for Electorate Officers

13. Supervision of EOs

14. Review of Department of Parliamentary Services audit program

15. Alternative mechanism for making public interest disclosures

16. Updating Ministerial Code of Conduct (Ministerial Code)

17. Clarification of scope of MP Code of Conduct

18. New offence for ministers who allow staff to undertake party-specific activities

19. Review and publication of Ministerial Staff Code of Conduct (Ministerial Staff Code)

20. Conflict of interest controls for ministers and ministerial staff

21. Management of grants.

Link to Watts Progress report

Operation Watts report

About IBAC

IBAC is Victoria's agency responsible for preventing and exposing public sector corruption and police misconduct. To report corruption or misconduct now, visit  ibac.vic.gov.au/report or call 1300 735 135.

Media contact: media@ibac.vic.gov.au or 0427 480 840

About the VO

The Office of the Victorian Ombudsman promotes fairness, integrity and respect for human rights. It holds the Victorian public sector accountable to the people of Victoria using a range of functions and powers, including the investigation of administrative actions in the Victorian public sector and matters that might be referred to it by the Victorian Parliament.

To make a complaint about an action or decision made by a Victorian public organisation visit ombudsman.vic.gov.au or call 1800 806 314.

Media contact: vomedia@ombudsman.vic.gov.au or 0409 936 235