The Victorian Coalition Government has taken the next big step in the evolution of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), introducing legislation to vest the body with examination and referral powers.
As promised, the IBAC Examinations Bill gives the Commission the power to hold examinations and coercively question witnesses to further its investigations into serious corruption in the public sector, and complaints about police conduct.
There is scope for hearings to be held in public if the Commissioner believes, among other things, it is in the public interest to do so, taking into account the potential effect on an individual’s safety or reputation.
At the same time, the Bill also sets out the protections and privileges available to people who are compelled to give evidence or produce documents or other materials in the course of an IBAC investigation.
The Bill gives IBAC the ability to investigate past matters relating to the public sector if the Commissioner believes it is in the public interest to do so and other criteria are met.
IBAC’s referral powers are also set out. Every complaint the Commission receives must be investigated, referred or dismissed. Where appropriate, complaints may be referred to another more appropriate body, such as the Ombudsman, or to prosecutorial bodies.
The Bill also makes it clear that the Victorian Inspectorate – the body set up to oversee IBAC – will have the ability to monitor investigations at every step, including having physical access to hearings.
Minister responsible for the establishment of an anti-corruption commission Andrew McIntosh said every effort had been made to balance the Commission’s powers with the rights of individuals.
“With the introduction of this Bill I am confident the Coalition Government’s IBAC will have all the powers it needs to uncover and address serious corruption in Victoria’s public sector,” Mr McIntosh said.
“I am equally confident there are sufficient checks and balances in place to monitor the use of IBAC’s extensive powers.
“We intend to uncover and stop whatever serious corruption exists in the Victorian public sector, not carry out witch hunts,” Mr McIntosh said.
In keeping with that intention, the IBAC Examinations Bill sets out a confidentiality regime for the Commission.
IBAC officers will be required to keep all matters confidential except when called upon to give evidence in the case of prosecutions or for other reasons which arise in the course of their duties. This requirement continues even after an officer ceases working for IBAC.
The Commissioner will have the power to issue confidentiality notices covering all other people who may have business with the Commission, including witnesses. These notices will apply until a cancellation is issued, or until five years have elapsed.