Updated 19 November with the Government’s accountability policies as forwarded to us and additional policies forwarded by the ALP.  

ART has sought the pre-election polices of the major parties on matters of accountability prior to the Victorian elections on November 29th. As we noted in a previous post on September 23rd, there are three serious deficiencies in Victoria’s democratic governance arrangements; First, the State does not have an effective anti-corruption body. The IBAC legislation should be amended to give IBAC the same ability as NSW’s ICAC to investigate corruption and to deal with the uncertainties and problems created in the handling of “protected disclosures” identified by the IBAC Commissioner and the Ombudsman. Second, the State lacks appropriate mechanisms for ensuring that funding of political parties does not lead to anti-democratic, if not corrupt, outcomes. An Inquiry into the political funding in Victoria of parties, members of Parliament and candidates should be referred to the Joint Electoral Matters Committee. Third, the State’s freedom of information legislation falls well short of best practice. The Queensland Solomon Report should be adopted by enacting the Right to Information legislation in place in Queensland and Tasmania.

There was a two stage process:

1.   Seeking and receiving direct responses from the major parties and collating relevant media releases and

2.   Preparing and completing a Table of the major parties’  Commitments (and media release) after consultation with them.

Responses from the parties to date are as follows.

The Victorian Liberal Party. (Incumbent)

Response received 16 November 2014

FROM THEIR WEBSITE IBAC Press release on 16th September 2014 Reforms to further strengthen Victoria’s integrity regime”. This press release outlines the Government’s proposed  Integrity Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. This bill is intended to introduce the following reforms:

  • clarifying the threshold test for IBAC to undertake investigations;
  • empowering IBAC to undertake preliminary investigations before determining whether to dismiss, investigate or refer a complaint or notification;
  • introducing a uniform requirement for public sector bodies to notify IBAC of any matters that they suspect on reasonable grounds involve corrupt conduct;
  • including misconduct in public office as one of the common law offences that can constitute corrupt conduct;
  • streamlining provisions for investigation of complaints by the Ombudsman, including greater power for the Ombudsman to discontinue investigations where the Ombudsman considers further investigation is not warranted; and
  • requiring IBAC and the Ombudsman to provide information to a Parliamentary Committee where Parliament has asked the Committee to investigate a possible breach of privilege or contempt of Parliament arising from an IBAC or Ombudsman’s report.

Under the new threshold test, IBAC will be able to investigate conduct whenever IBAC is satisfied that the conduct, if proven, would constitute serious corrupt conduct and IBAC suspects on reasonable grounds that the conduct is in fact occurring or has occurred. FOI Press release on 7th October 2014. Assistant Freedom of Information Commissioners appointed”. This press release notes the the appointment of two Assistant Freedom of Information (FOI) Commissioners, Mr Michael Ison and Ms Rachel Westaway. Reporting of Mental Health Data Press release on the Labor party’s promise to be more transparent on the release of mental health data. More lies and manipulation from Dan(iel) Andrews”.  States Opposition leader Daniel Andrews can’t be believed when he says he will improve public reporting of mental health data.

The Victorian National Party (Coalition partner)

Ben Hindmarsh, the  Chief of Staff of the Hon Peter Ryan, MP, Deputy Premier of Victoria has written referring our inquiry to the Attorney General, the Hon Robert Clark. The letter says in part, “The matters you have raised are of concern to the Deputy Premier, however I note that the specific responsibility for these matters raised in your correspondence rests with the Attorney General, the Hon Robert Clark MP. “

The Victorian Labor Party. (In opposition)

We have received a letter from Martin Pakula, Shadow Attorney General, on behalf of the Leader of the opposition, the Hon Daniel Andrews. It reads in part, “Victorian Labor has already made commitments to:

  • improve the operation of IBAC by giving it jurisdiction over the common law offence of misconduct in Public office by lowering its investigatory threshold and by resolving jurisdictional issues with other integrity bodies;
  • Give the Auditor general “follow the dollar” powers;
  • Creating a genuine Senate Estimates style budget estimates process.

 

In addition to that, Victorian Labor intends to make further announcements relating to integrity and accountability prior to the 29th November State Election. “ This letter was accompanied by a press release headed, “LABOR’S FOI CHANGES TO END NAPTHINE’S SECRET STATE” This press release highlights Labor’s proposed changes to Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. “As part of the overhaul, Labor will convert the role of the FOI Commissioner into the Office of the Public Access Counsellor (OPAC). The new, independent Office will maintain all existing powers of the FOI Commissioner, and will gain the authority to review those FOI decisions made by Departments and Ministers and made on the grounds of Cabinet-in-Confidence. OPAC will also gain the power to set standards for Departmental officers (which are currently set by the Attorney General) and reduce the time limit for responding to FOI requests from 45 days to 30 days. The time limit for an agency to consider the OPAC’s decision will also be reduced, from 60 to 14 days.”

In addition, on 11 November 2014 details were supplied by the ALP of its proposed commitments to strengthen the independence of the Auditor-General. Access the document here.

FROM THEIR WEBSITE Transparent performance data The ALP issued a press release on 15th October 2014, headed “Napthine blocks move to release performance data”, noting; “Today, Victorian Labor attempted to introduce the Transparency in Government Bill 2014 which would have enforced the quarterly release of hospital performance data and ambulance and fire services response times. The Napthine Government used its numbers on the floor of Parliament to prevent the Bill from even being debated, let alone passed. An Andrews Labor Government will reintroduce the Bill.” Reform of Parliamentary Practice The ALP issues a press release, on 16th October 2014, headed “Labor to clean up Parliament with ‘honesty reforms’ ” which summarises many of their pre-election promises. These reforms are listed in the press release as;

  • Introduce supplementary questions in the Legislative Assembly.
  • Abolish Dorothy Dixer questions in both chambers, instead providing Ministers with the ability to make two minute Ministerial Statements where new initiatives, projects and achievements can be briefly explained or announced.
  • Reduce time limits for answers to questions. For the substantive questions, three minutes, and for the supplementary questions, one minute.
  • Ensure that Government Members are still able to raise questions to Ministers on behalf of their electorates. At the conclusion of Question Time, both Government and Opposition Members will be able to ask questions of Ministers, the answers to which will be provided on notice.
  • Provide the Speaker and the President with the power to find that a Minister’s answer has been non responsive to the question and to require the Minister to provide a written response – to the satisfaction of the Presiding Officer – by the next sitting day.
  • Abolish verbal Notices of Motion, to be replaced with written Notices of Motion provided to the Presiding Officer. Motions will be able to be read out only if they are brought on for debate.
  • Introduce a 30-day time limit for the answering of Questions on Notice and enforce the 30 day time limit for Adjournments response in the Legislative Assembly. • Make Consideration in Detail (committee stage) a standard feature for the passage of Bills in the Legislative Assembly (as it is in the Council). Labor will give consideration to the creation of a Legislative Assembly Committee Room for the purpose of the detailed consideration of Bills.
  • Provide a non-Government chair for the Accountability and Oversight Committee of the Parliament.
  • Review sessional and standing orders, looking at a range of other matters including sitting hours and the scheduling of more time for MPs to raise matters on behalf of their communities in Parliament.
  • Reform the Parliamentary Estimates and Accounts Committee to ensure that Budget hearings are more rigorous, akin to the Senate Estimates process.

Victorian Greens

23 Oct 2014 – We have received correspondence from the Greens on their pre-election accountability policies. The Greens sent a covering letter from Sue Pennicuik answering each of the three issues that we have identified as important. They also sent a document,  “Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission: Victorian Parliamentary Greens position”, detailing their policy specifically on reforms to IBAC. The full documents are linked as shown. A summary of the main points of Greens policy follows: On IBAC,The Greens continue to be committed to these amendments to give the IBAC the ability to effectively investigate all levels of corruption in public office, including:

  • broadening the definition of corrupt conduct along the lines of  section 8 of the ICAC Act;
  • providing for the IBAC Commissioner to determine what corruption is significant; and removing the requirement that the IBAC should only investigate ‘serious corrupt conduct,’
  • including misconduct in public office which will provide for breaches of MP and Ministerial Codes of Conduct being investigated,
  • removing the thresholds that presently prevent IBAC investigating any state of affairs which gives rise to a suspicion of corrupt conduct, and
  • providing IBAC with the appropriate powers necessary to conduct effective preliminary investigations.

 

On funding of political parties Sue Pennicuik writes “In November 2009, I moved a motion that, “This house calls on the state and federal governments to reform laws relating to political donations, with the aim of banning donations from entities such as unions and corporations, and limiting the size of donations from individuals.” In 14 April 2010, I moved a motion that, “This house calls on the Australian Labor Party and Liberal‐National party coalition refrain from accepting political donations from property developers for the remainder of the 2010.” This motion followed legislation in Queensland and in particular in NSW at that time which made it illegal to either offer or accept a donation from a property developer. This was brought about by ongoing scandals and public disquiet about political donations, particularly from property developers at that time, and the influence they have on political parties, and the indirect influence they can have on government.

In May 2014, I moved a similar motion that, “This house calls on the Liberal, The Nationals and the Australian Labor Party to refrain from accepting political donations from property developers and organisations that are regulated by government or may be affected by government decisions; and government to introduce legislation to limit political donations to, and expenditure by, political parties and candidates.” Debate on this motion was not concluded. ” On Freedom of InformationThe Act should be amended to narrow the scope of exemptions in Part IV, including:   28. Cabinet documents 30. Internal working documents 31. Law enforcement documents 32. Documents affecting legal proceedings 33. Documents affecting personal privacy 34. Documents relating to trade secrets etc. 35. Documents containing material obtained in confidence 36. Disclosure contrary to public interest  

In addition the overall objectives and purposes of the Act should be rewritten to strengthen the presumption of public release of documents and encourage more proactive release.  “ FROM THEIR WEBSITE Misconduct Greg Barber brought his Members of Parliament (Serious Misconduct) Amendment Bill to a vote on Wednesday 3 September 2014. This bill was intended to create “a criminal offence for the serious misconduct of a member of Parliament, with allegations investigated by the police.  There would be criminal penalties including imprisonment for a major breach of the trust and responsibility held by elected representatives.   The bill gives the courts a wide discretion to determine if the misconduct is serious and provides a solid foundation for law enforcement authorities to pursue their prosecutions based upon the common law.” The Greens say: Politicians should never be above the law or held to lower standards than other members of the community like teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, child care workers, the public sector, profit and not-for-profit corporations. The offense carries a level 6 maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, 600 penalty units ($88,566 this year) or both.  This is a similar penalty that local councillors face if they misuse their position.” The bill was defeated. Integrity The Greens general statement on their commitment to integrity in Parliament and the reform of Victorian IBAC can be found on their website under “Integrity” . Inquiries Further Greens commentary on IBAC and the proper conduct of commissions of inquiry by Sue Pennicuik when speaking to the Inquiries Bill 2014 Freedom of Information (FOI) Legislation Greg Barber comments on the Freedom of Information and Victorian Inspectorate Acts Amendment Bill 2014.

In sum, he decries the progressive weakening of FOI requirements since the Cain Government’s  Freedom of Information Act 1982, and maintains that this bill will not fix the current shortcomings of FOI in Victoria.