Time to end Red Shirts investigation, says Ombudsman

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The Victorian Ombudsman has tabled a first report in Parliament today relating to the matters referred to her by the Legislative Council in February 2022. It concerns those matters already investigated: the ‘Red Shirts’ scheme that operated before the 2014 State election, and allegations of branch stacking.

The referral required the Ombudsman to investigate the role of the Premier in designing, propagating, and facilitating the scheme, the role of electorate officers and ministerial advisers from all factions of the Australian Labor Party performing factional tasks and whether further matters should be referred to IBAC.

In relation to the Red Shirts investigation, the Ombudsman noted that her report tabled in March 2018 found no evidence of Daniel Andrews designing, propagating, or facilitating the ‘Red Shirts’ scheme. No persuasive evidence has come to light since.

The Ombudsman also said: “I concluded in 2018 that the scheme was an artifice, and wrong. I also concluded that 21 Members of Parliament who participated in it had breached Parliament’s Members’ Guide.

“But I did not conclude it was criminal. Nor did Victoria Police in its initial assessment, or the Director of Public Prosecutions in a later assessment. Nor was it corrupt, as defined by the IBAC Act, despite much media, public and political commentary to that effect. According to the Privileges Committee of the Legislative Council in 2018, the conduct did not even amount to a contempt of Parliament.”

In relation to allegations of misuse of public funds connected to branch stacking, the Operation Watts joint investigation by IBAC and the Ombudsman noted it was highly likely that the misuse of publicly funded staff for party or factional purposes had occurred for a long period and was not limited to one faction of the ALP. But lack of evidence made it impossible to make more specific findings about other factions.

The Ombudsman concluded that further investigation into these matters was neither practicable nor proportionate.

“It is time to end this debate. I cannot, of course, rule out that further evidence may yet come to light, but with the passage of time and difficulty in proof I am not prepared to spend further public resources on these matters,” she said.

“I now look forward to some public debate on what should happen when MPs cross the line. Investigating allegations about badly behaved MPs has taken up considerable resources of both the Ombudsman and IBAC in recent years, while some bad behaviour is not referred or investigated at all.

“I recommended an independent investigative agency back in 2018. Instead, we have seen further allegations of misuse of public funds.

I welcome the government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations in Operation Watts and l look forward to real reform in this area, and to a commitment across the political spectrum to achieving this reform. I will be monitoring the progress,” the Ombudsman concluded.

View the full report here

Notes for editors

The second part of the Legislative Council referral of February 2022 relates to matters not previously investigated by the Ombudsman, and include the alleged politicisation of the public service.

This investigation is ongoing and expected to conclude in 2023. No further statement will be about it until then.


Ombudsman calls for submissions on politicisation issue referred by Victorian Parliament

Operation Watts, a joint investigation into allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including Members of Parliament

Investigation of a matter referred from the Legislative Council on 25 November 2015

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 https://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/ or call 1800 806 314.

Media contact: vomedia@ombudsman.vic.gov.au