VMC piece by David Davis

Cleaning up Labor’s corrupt grants processes

Victoria’s broad multicultural community has strengthened our economy and social structure and the Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC), a statutory authority established under the Baillieu government in 2011, provides advice to government on policies and programs that are relevant to multicultural communities.  Daniel Andrews and Labor have weakened the independence of the VMC and allowed factional Labor pressures to improperly direct grants.

Communities should not miss out on grants they are entitled to because taxpayers’ money is misused in factional Labor games.

The Opposition has introduced a bill to Parliament this week to restore the independence of the VMC and to prevent the corrupt or improper manipulation of its grants process by Labor.

The July 2022 Operation Watts joint report by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Ombudsman, Investigation into allegations of misuse of electorate office and ministerial office staff and resources for branch stacking and other party related activities, draws stark attention to the provision of grants inappropriately and improperly to certain community organisations aligned with factions within the Andrews Labor government.

Chapter 6 provides abundant evidence of improper grant allocation processes.  Chapter 7 Conclusions and observations, particularly paragraphs 708 to 722, makes findings, conclusions and observations about VMC grants that would cause a fair-minded member of the community enormous concern.  Paragraph 710, for example, deals with evidence and concludes that “people in the ML faction … sought to improperly influence the grant process”.

It is critical that the VMC is able to undertake its work independently, without external pressure through factional or other influences that detract from its ability to give independent advice to government.  It is also critical that grants programs it administers are not used for party political purposes or factional purposes and are beyond reproach and seen to be beyond reproach.

And yet, in a May 2021 letter to the Premier’s Office, Kaushaliya Vaghela MLC stated that multicultural grants and board positions were effectively offered as political currency raising concerns about how positions at the Victorian Multicultural Commission were awarded, and that people from the Premier’s Socialist Left faction enticed allies by claiming influence over publicly funded roles.

The Vaghela letter said “The gang says if people do what they say, then in return the gang will advise the Premier or the relevant minister in deciding who should get such roles, in returning favours.”

How did the situation described by Ms Vaghela come about?

The VMC had its independence weakened after Labor’s election in 2014.

A review of the VMC by Labor in 2015 diminished the independence of the VMC, effectively absorbing its operations into the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

From 2016 onwards the introduction of the new arrangements saw press stories emerging with Commissioners and others expressing concern about the diminished independence of the VMC.

Also read: Recognizing leaders in Multicultural Communities

Yet another review into the VMC’s governance was conducted in 2019.

Key recommendations sought to restore greater independence to the VMC but were rejected by the Andrews Labor Government:

  • 7, that full autonomy with full functionality be returned to the VMC.
  • 14, that there be designated staff to serve multicultural communities who associate with the Commission and its role as a grant source and representative voice of the multicultural community.
  • 15, that the Chair’s autonomy as a public service body head in relation to persons employed by the Commission be restored.
  • 16, that autonomy to the Commission be restored similar to other statutory bodies.

In February 2021 Labor shifted the VMC to the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, downgrading its position.  We believe the VMC should be located in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.  We would reverse the Labor change.

In addition, my Private Members Bill currently before the Parliament would make the VMC independent.  It would outlaw ministers and ministerial staff directing VMC grants.  It would stop the misuse of VMC grants by factional Labor ministers or their staff and ensure taxpayers’ money is not used for party political purposes.  More money would be available for multicultural communities.

David Davis MP

Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council

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