ART and Centre for Public Integrity made front page news on 8.12.2023

The Age published an article “Andrews’ attack on corruption watchdogs stuns integrity experts“, which quoted both organisations’ response to remarks made by Daniel Andrews about his reactions to criticisms by Victorian integrity agencies in a podcast “Socially Democratic”.

In it, he dismissed Victoria’s integrity watchdogs as both money and power hungry and illegitimately standing in the way of duly elected government.

Here’s our explainer on how the relationship between the Victorian Government and its three integrity agencies is actually designed to work.

The former Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews has, especially during the latter part of his time as Premier, been notably resistant to any critique of his government’s integrity.

Repeated questions about the Victorian Government’s misconduct, falling short of corruption, as defined in the IBAC legislation, have been raised by Victorian integrity agencies, in particular IBAC and the Ombudsman’s office, in the Watts, Sanders and Daintree reports and in the Ombudsman’s report just delivered on the Victorian Public Service.

These reports made numerous recommendations for change on matters such as increased centralisation of power in the Premier’s office and the growing influence of staffers over the use of the public service for advice. Mr. Andrews has remained unwilling to accept criticism over the politicisation of the public service.

Mr. Andrews has also been seriously criticised for his failure to release the letter from then IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich written on 15 Dec 2022, in which he claimed that the then Labor dominated Integrity and Oversight Committee had sought to damage and undermine IBAC’s work.

It is clear that, far from recognising that integrity agencies are agencies of the Parliament not of governments, and are set up by Parliament to oversee the integrity of governments, Andrews instead regards them as having no entitlement to criticise the government but rather to be an encroachment on the power of governments to behave as they see fit.

Andrews has repeatedly dismissed recommendations of integrity agencies aimed at ensuring government processes are untainted by political bias or special interests, and to ensure that public money is spent efficiently and effectively.

Daniel Andrews’ commented in a “Socially Democratic” podcast on 7th December 2023 that;

“…there’s not an accountability officer who doesn’t want more money, more power, that’s fine, that’s their job… but they are not entitled to pretend that anyone voted for them, not entitled to pretend that they have somehow got a mandate that is equal to, let alone superior to the duly elected government.”

It should be noted that neither IBAC nor the Ombudsman’s office has sought extra funding in 2022, nor did they in 2023 .

It should also be noted that Daniel Andrews has no authority to engage in improper conduct. No electoral mandate will give him that power. The role of the three independent parliamentary officers, the Auditor General, the Ombudsman’s office and IBAC, is to ensure that he is accountable when he exceeds his electoral mandate.

In response to Andrews failure to understand that Parliament is the source of integrity agencies authority to oversee government, the Accountability Roundtable and the Centre for Public integrity has put out a joint statement which was quoted on the front page of The Age, which defines the legal and parliamentary role of government oversight agencies:

“It’s important that Victorians understand that these are independent officers of Parliament. They perform a vitally important role in our system of representative democracy, and are mandated to protect Victorians from misconduct in government.

We are in Victoria seeing what is potentially the beginning of the erosion of democratic norms and these agencies are a critical bulwark against executive overreach. We are alarmed by the disregard shown for the accountability mechanisms that play a vital role in responsible government.”

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