Vic MPs consulted on corruption reform

Former corruption watchdog boss Robert Redlich has launched a broadside on the Victorian premier.

Former corruption watchdog boss Robert Redlich has launched a broadside on the Victorian premier. Photo: AAP

The anti-corruption watchdog and Ombudsman are asking Victorian political parties about how to stop the misuse of public funds by MPs.

The appeal on Wednesday comes after an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission inquiry last month heard Labor MPs were directing taxpayer-funded electorate officers and ministerial advisers to do factional work during work hours.

This was despite parliamentary reforms in 2019 following Labor’s red shirts scandal that prohibited electorate officers from doing “party specific activity” at work.

IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich QC and Ombudsman Deborah Glass said evidence at the recent hearings demonstrated the reforms “have not deterred the continued deployment of public resources by members for purposes unrelated to their public duties”.

They said “party specific” had been defined as relating to campaigning or electioneering activities and did not include the administration, organisation or management of a political party.

“Members of parliament gave evidence of their belief that parliament deliberately omitted reference to the wider definition of ‘party specific’ work, to permit the use of electorate officers to engage in some party political activities during work hours,” their letter to polical leaders read.

“We invite your views as to whether further legislative change is required to deter misuse.”

Mr Redlich and Ms Glass are also seeking feedback on how to reform the hiring process of electoral and ministerial staff, after the inquiry heard instances of factional allies and their families being hired by MPs.

They are considering whether there should be a ban on the employment of close relatives by MPs and if the staffing allocation and electorate office budgets should be reduced.

Political parties have also been asked for their views on how frameworks for parliamentary accountability could be strengthened.

Mr Redlich and Ms Glass said the absence of a clear and effective process for monitoring appropriate employment of resources and investigating conduct breaches by MPs “continues to undermine accountability for their actions and public confidence in integrity”.

Their joint investigation, dubbed Operation Watts, began after a Nine Network expose revealed upper house MP Adem Somyurek used his own cash to pay for other people’s Labor Party memberships and enlisted the help of taxpayer-funded staff.

The practice, known as branch stacking, was done to boost his moderate faction’s influence and ensure preferred candidates were preselected. It is not illegal but is against Labor Party rules.

IBAC and the Ombudsman are investigating whether taxpayer funds were used for such work.

While public hearings have concluded, the investigation remains ongoing and no individual findings have been made.

Mr Somyurek quit the Labor Party before he was expelled, while his allies have been not been preselected for the next state election.


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