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 scrutinized 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:
- Establishing a Parliamentary Ethics Committee
- Establishing a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner
- Role of the Privileges Committees
- Role of the Parliamentary Integrity Adviser (PIA)
- Commitment to establish a Parliamentary Ethics Committee and Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner
- Role of Parliamentary Ethics Committee and Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner
- Broader prohibition on party-specific activities for Electorate Officers
- New offence for MPs who allow staff to undertake party-specific activities
- Review and publication of Electorate Officer Code of Conduct (EO Code)
- Prohibition on employment of family members as electorate officers
- Role of Department of Parliamentary Services
- Recruitment processes for Electorate Officers
- Supervision of EOs
- Review of Department of Parliamentary Services audit program
- Alternative mechanism for making public interest disclosures
- Updating Ministerial Code of Conduct (Ministerial Code)
- Clarification of scope of MP Code of Conduct
- New offence for ministers who allow staff to undertake party-specific activities
- Review and publication of Ministerial Staff Code of Conduct (Ministerial Staff Code)
- Conflict of interest controls for ministers and ministerial staff
- Management of grants.
Commenting on the Operation Watts Progress Report, through a media release Shadow Special Minister of State, David Davis, said: “There is no excuse for the Andrews Government’s failure to act on the serious integrity recommendations made by Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdogs.
“Daniel Andrews has no interest in tackling corruption. It simply wants to bury it.
“For years, Daniel Andrews has presided over a government that is mired in corruption and that puts its own self-interest before the needs of the community.
“Every day that Daniel Andrews fails to address these serious matters is another that the rorts, waste and mismanagement that has flourished under his government are allowed to continue.”
Mr Davis also said that while the Victorian Liberals and Nationals introduced legislation several times into Parliament that would address several integrity shortcomings as identified by the Ombudsman and IBAC Commissioner, it was blocked by the Andrews Government each time.