Victoria’s anti-corruption commissioner has complained to the Attorney-General that laws allowing people to challenge his draft findings in court are unnecessarily delaying him tabling his findings in parliament.
In a letter to the state government and the opposition, seen by The Age, the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption commission’s head, Robert Redlich, said only legislation could fix the problem, which has led to significant delays into the inquiry into alleged corruption of the planning system in Melbourne’s south-east.
Robert Redlich has called on the state government and opposition to support “useful amendments” to IBAC’s governing legislation.
In March, Melbourne property developer John Woodman sought an urgent Victorian Supreme Court injunction to prevent the watchdog tabling its report into allegations of corrupt conduct in the city’s south-east.
The case was now at the mercy of the court’s timetable, Redlich said.
He said the delays had nothing to do with underfunding but were due to the IBAC Act, which he said needed to be amended so that people named in probes could not clog the reports up in the courts.
The commissioner, a former Supreme Court judge, said this would “aid a much more timely completion of investigations”.
John Woodman.Credit:Justin McManus
“While these challenges can be for a variety of different reasons, the speed with which the litigation is determined is largely under the control of the court and dependent upon the priority which individual judges are prepared to give to the particular litigation,” he wrote.
Redlich called for bipartisan support to amend the IBAC Act to ensure cases of privilege – in which people named in probes claim they do not have to disclose evidence – do not get clogged up in the courts.
The commissioner also canvassed a second change to the IBAC Act that would narrow legal challenges on natural justice grounds. The act’s natural justice processes give people who are subject to adverse commentary in corruption probes the chance to respond before the final report is released. Redlich said the changes would reflect similar provisions available to the Northern Territory’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Premier Daniel Andrews was reportedly questioned during secret hearings about his association with the property developer at the centre of the probe into planning in Melbourne’s south-east, which has focused on issues first publicly raised by The Age in 2018.
Woodman claims he has been denied procedural fairness and that IBAC breached its statutory obligations by not providing him with a reasonable opportunity to respond to the draft report from its Operation Sandon probe, which mentions him 1450 times among hundreds of pages.
Court documents state the commission has made adverse findings against Woodman. Under current legislation, if IBAC intends to make an adverse comment about a person, it must first provide a reasonable opportunity for them to respond and include the response in the report.
The Operation Sandon report, which is expected to recommend sweeping reforms to integrity processes at a local government level, was expected to be tabled in parliament in the first half of this year but has been delayed by the Supreme Court intervention. Redlich said the time frame for the tabling of the report is now “beyond IBAC’s control”.
“Mr Woodman is challenging aspects of the natural justice process and IBAC has undertaken not to table the report until the matter is resolved,” Redlich said.
“As a result, despite the importance of the recommendations that are likely to be made arising out of that investigation, the completion of the report has stalled. The tabling of the special report in parliament has been delayed until the litigation has concluded and any findings by the court have been addressed.”
In his letter, Redlich urged both major parties to consider supporting the amendments, claiming the anti-corruption body remains hamstrung by the act.
“Given recent challenges, these would be useful amendments to IBAC’s governing legislation,” he wrote.
A government spokesperson said the Victorian Inspectorate, which oversees IBAC, had assured the government that “current natural justice provisions in IBAC investigations are important and appropriate”.
“The natural justice processes are a vital part of making sure that a balance is struck between IBAC being able to do its important work and the proper protection of someone’s rights and their welfare,” the spokesperson said.
Shadow treasurer David Davis says “legal shenanigans” should not delay integrity reports.Credit:Joe Armao
Shadow treasurer David Davis – who last month called for IBAC’s funding to be increased – said while the opposition was still deliberating on whether to support the amendments recommended by Redlich, “legal shenanigans should not drive delays”.
“We need to prioritise the integrity of government and these reports should not be unnecessarily delayed,” he said.
Davis said that while natural justice rights should not be “unreasonably curtailed”, it was important that the process was not used “to effectively stymie” the anti-corruption work of the commission.
“The Supreme Court has always got to make decisions on its priorities, but it is a priority for the Victorian community to root out corruption and ensure that comfort is not given to corrupt individuals who would seek to potentially misuse legal processes.”
When contacted by The Age, an IBAC spokesperson said Redlich had no further comment but said it was regrettable the letter had been made public.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.