A Victorian parliamentary committee investigating the welfare of witnesses to anti-corruption agencies has been accused of leaking confidential correspondence and compromising ongoing investigations.
This comes after the committee’s then chair, Labor MP Harriet Shing, in May cut the livestream of a public hearing when the premier, Daniel Andrews, was mentioned.
Here’s what we know about the Integrity and Oversight Committee’s latest inquiry.
What exactly is the Integrity and Oversight Committee?
The Integrity and Oversight Committee is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the performance of the state’s anti-corruption bodies – including the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (Ibac) and the Victorian Ombudsman.
The committee consists of seven MPs – four from Labor, two Liberals and one crossbencher.
It is chaired by a Labor MP, currently Gary Maas, who took over from Shing when she was recently promoted to cabinet.
In February 2022, the committee announced it would investigate the welfare of witnesses as part of its annual review into the agencies. The inquiry was prompted by the suspected suicide of former Casey mayor Amanda Stapledon, who was being investigated as part of Ibac’s Operation Sandon.
Why does Operation Sandon sound familiar?
Operation Sandon is a long-running investigation into allegations of corrupt conduct involving councillors and property developers in the City of Casey in Melbourne’s south-east.
It conducted weeks of public hearings in 2019 and 2020 and has grown to engulf Labor MPs, ministers and the premier – the Australian earlier this year revealed Andrews was interviewed by Ibac in private over his association with the property developer John Woodman.
Woodman, meanwhile, has launched a supreme court bid to stop Ibac tabling its final report.
What’s happened during the parliamentary inquiry?
The inquiry has made headlines several times this year.
In May, the Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, was prevented from answering questions asked by Liberal MPs on the committee about Labor’s red shirts saga. Shing had said this was because it was “the subject of an unresolved investigation by another integrity agency”.
During an earlier hearing that same month, Shing demanded committee administrators “cut the feed” when Ibac’s commissioner, Robert Redlich, was asked why Andrews was examined in private as part of the watchdog’s Operation Watts and Operation Sandon investigations.
What did Ibac have to say?
Ibac wrote to the committee to express “grave concerns” about the inquiry and what it says is a “a significant departure from established principles of procedural fairness”.
In its five-page submission dated 15 July, the watchdog alleges several confidential communications received by the committee were leaked to the media.
“Some of these leaks plainly relate to confidential submissions that contain adverse allegations and comments about Ibac’s conduct in respect of ongoing investigations and specific witnesses,” the submission reads.
“Despite Ibac’s repeated requests to have the opportunity to be heard on the matters raised in those submissions, the committee has refused to allow Ibac that opportunity, either in a public or private forum.”
The submissions also led to “widespread” and “inaccurate” media reporting about its welfare management practices to which it couldn’t respond, Ibac’s submission read.
“To avoid any irreversible damage as a result of the leaked submissions, a private hearing to canvass the issues raised in those submissions should be undertaken which would not in any way prejudice any ongoing investigation,” Ibac said.
What was the committee’s response?
Maas said the “language in Ibac’s submission” demonstrated why the inquiry was necessary.
“The committee’s work is critically important, because no agency is beyond scrutiny, especially in matters that relate to the welfare of Victorians,” he said late on Tuesday.
The Liberal MP Brad Rowswell, the committee’s deputy chair, accused Maas on Wednesday of breaking with convention by not consulting him before releasing his statement.
He said Ibac was within its rights to express a view and accused Maas of undermining the submission.
Where to from here?
The committee is still drafting its report on the welfare of witnesses. It was due to be tabled in June.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report