Integrity agencies seek reforms to deter the misuse of public resources

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The Victorian Ombudsman and Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission have written to all leaders of Victorian political parties seeking recommendations for legislative change to deter the misuse of public funds.

The reforms are also aimed at strengthening the frameworks for Parliamentary accountability, particularly in relation to breaches of the Members of Parliament Code of Conduct.

Evidence heard at the recent IBAC Operation Watts public hearings suggests that in Victoria some Members of Parliament may be misusing public resources by directing electorate officers and ministerial staff to engage in work which furthers their political objectives.

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass OBE said: “The evidence indicates that despite a package of reforms enacted by Parliament in 2019 in response to my “Red Shirts” report in 2018, existing laws and rules around the legitimate use of public resources are not robust enough to prevent their misuse.”

Members of Parliament gave evidence of their belief that when legislative changes were being implemented, Parliament deliberately omitted reference to the wider definition of “party specific” work, to permit the use of electorate officers to engage in some party-political activities during work hours.

IBAC Commissioner, the Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC, said: “Much of the evidence heard at the public hearings spoke about how taxpayer funds were directed to ministerial and electorate office staff to perform party‐political during work hours, rather than the job they were hired to do in performing ministerial or electorate work.”

IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman are also seeking clarity from Members of Parliament about the appointment process of staff hired for electoral or ministerial work and whether reducing the staffing allocation and electorate office budget should be considered.

This engagement with party leaders will form one input into the recommendations that will be included in the Operation Watts public report to be released next year.

The recommendations in the final report will seek to strengthen the controls to protect public funds from being misused and go towards restoring public confidence.


Operation Watts is a coordinated investigation between IBAC and the VO looking into a range of matters including allegations that Victorian public officers engaged in corrupt conduct by directing taxpayer-funded ministerial and electorate office staff to perform party‐political work during times when those staff were being paid to perform ministerial or electorate work.

While public hearings have concluded, the investigation remains ongoing, and, as yet, no individual findings have been made.

The coordinated investigation is being conducted pursuant to section 72 of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act 2011 (IBAC Act) which enables IBAC to consult, coordinate and cooperate with the Victorian Ombudsman. The coordinated investigation is conducted by IBAC as an exercise of IBAC's duties, functions and powers.

No further comments will be made.



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