April 18, 2013  |  Second Reading

Integrity Legislation Amendment Bill 2013

I am pleased to be able to speak on this bill, which deals with matters of integrity as they relate to people in public office.

We should be pleased that in Victoria we can be confident in saying of both our members of Parliament and those right across our public service that we have a high level of integrity, and our public can be confident that when they deal with us as MPs or with members of the public service they can generally get good, hard, honest responses to their inquiries and proper support without fearing any form of corruption. However, as you would be aware, Deputy Speaker, and as we are all aware in this house, we need to ensure that we can put activities in place that ensure we are under the microscope as it were, and if a member of Parliament or an officer employed in the public service digresses and loses sight of the key responsibility of their role, which is to act with full integrity, then they can be appropriately dealt with.

Ahead of the last state election we heard much from the then opposition, which was very critical of what the then government had done by way of its anticorruption activities. Not that any evidence of corruption was ever brought out that was of concern other than those issues that have been followed up on with regard to some of Victoria’s police officers. Fortunately those were not instances of overall corruption which might have concerned the public, and clearly they were appropriately dealt with at the time. However, this government came into office promising a new anticorruption commission that was going to be put in place by July 2011. In those early days, we found there were a lot of slippages in deadlines and a lot of umming and ahing by the then Baillieu government in getting this Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission established. It was 14 months late in being established, and now we have come to the ninth piece of legislation relating to its establishment, which will enable it to get under way with its work. It has been very slow process, where a lot of additional advisers have been brought into play, and still we find there is a great deal of criticism from the legal profession and a range of commentators, including some of the government’s own advisers, who have been brought in to assist the government in bringing about this IBAC, as it has now become known.

As well as being 14 months late to establish, the anticorruption commission, the coalition took a great deal of time to appoint a commissioner. It is certainly pleasing to see that Commissioner O’Bryan has now been appointed, but the process of his appointment was a very drawn out. When we heard about the original proposal from the then opposition, it was anticipated that there would be a bipartisan process to establish a commission that both sides of politics could support and which the public would be able to see was not a politically biased commission. However, instead of involving the opposition in any discussions about the appointment of the Commissioner, we were told about the appointment only at the last moment. The night before the Commissioner was to be appointed, there was a call to the opposition leader to say, ‘By the way, we are about to appoint Commissioner O’Bryan. I hope you agree’. That level of bipartisan involvement clearly is not ideal, but we now have the Commissioner in place, and he has been set the task of establishing and undertaking the work of the IBAC. The then opposition promised vehemently in 2010 that it was going to establish this new commission to oversee all MPs and all people in the public service, and initially it was supposed to be based on the New South Wales anticorruption commission. However, given these promises, this is not the final position in which we find ourselves.

We now find that the bar has been set much higher than it had been for the requirements for an investigation to be undertaken by the IBAC. The commission will now need to have a range of pretty convincing evidence that somebody has acted in a corrupt way before it can act, so it will be very interesting to see whether the IBAC will still be able to do its work and make a difference to the system. Only time will tell on that, and obviously we will all be very interested to see whether the IBAC, with all its promise, is going to be an effective body in acting in any different way in overseeing potential corruption in the public service and across the public sector, but clearly the promise of the IBAC as made by the opposition only 21/2 years ago certainly does not appear to be what we are actually going to end up receiving.

If we look at this ninth piece of legislation relating to the IBAC, we see that it addresses something that should have been addressed earlier. It seems amazing that only now, after the appointment of the commissioner, we are looking at issues of superannuation and salary sacrifice as they will be able to be applied after the passing of this legislation. Clearly the opposition has no problem with this piece of legislation. It seems sensible to ensure that the terms and conditions of the commissioner are appropriate, but it is surprising that so long after July 2011, when the commission was meant to be in place, we are still coming back to pieces of legislation about this. Twenty months after the establishment of the commission was due we are still looking at issues of payment and the terms and conditions of the commissioner. It is a very messy procedure.

Clearly this government has not been able to progress this matter in a very effective and efficient way, as it should have been able to. This legislation should have been part of the early pieces of legislation. All of these issues should have been dealt with back then, but if that is not the case, we are certainly happy to see that those issues associated with the anticorruption commissioner are now addressed in this legislation and that we can see the commission move forward. We will all be watching the legal profession and the political commentators. We will all be watching to see what this wonderful new commission is able to establish. If I sound cynical, it is because, clearly, we do not see that this commission is going to be in a position to make any big difference to what we have. The bottom line, in my view, continues to be that all members of this house, as do all members of the public service, have a clear responsibility to recognise that they are serving the people of this state. They need to do so with honesty and integrity at all times and continue to reflect upon that.

If this body in any way helps to ensure that people in this house and people across the public sector recognise their responsibilities to reflect on what integrity actually means and what they need to do to ensure that the public can be completely confident in the way they operate, then I welcome it, but I think there have always been such opportunities in place. I hope we can continue to feel that for many years to come. The public of Victoria has the right to be very confident that its public servants, whether they be elected members of this house or paid staff members right through the public service, are of high quality and are going to be able to operate in a fair and honest manner with them at all times.