Holding the government to account

22 Mar 2023

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News, Parliament

The Greens have just won a major concession from the state Labor government, which will strengthen the integrity of our parliament and make it easier to hold the government to account. 

Working with the crossbench, we’ve managed to end Labor’s dominance of the powerful Integrity and Oversight Committee. Until now, Labor held a majority of positions on the committee, as well as the chair position. 

This committee is supposed to monitor the performance of Victoria’s integrity agencies, such as IBAC, our anti-corruption commission. When IBAC’s job is to keep tabs on the government and root out corruption, you can see it’s a problem that the committee monitoring IBAC is controlled by the government itself.

This Labor Government has a reputation for ceaselessly trying to control the flow of information to suppress criticism and promote praise. They’re not the first government to do this, but they have taken this art to new extremes that cross a line. 

So it comes as no surprise that Labor have been accused of abusing their control of the Integrity and Oversight Committee to limit IBAC’s ability to do its work properly, ensuring inquiries are never too critical and only recommend actions the government likes.

Well, this week The Greens and Legalise Cannabis MPs have used our increased numbers in parliament to fix that.

The Integrity and Oversight Committee will no longer have a government majority, and it will be chaired by a crossbench MP. This means it will be free from heavy-handed government interference, and will now be able to properly ensure that our integrity agencies are better able to identify and stop government misconduct and corruption. 

When we say having more Greens in parliament will help hold the government to account, these are the sorts of strong improvements we’re talking about.

So how did we do it? 

Just last week, Daniel Andrews said anyone wanting to remove government control from this committee should “get yourselves elected”.

Well he may have forgotten that’s exactly what the Greens did in November. At the State election last year we quadrupled our upper house numbers. The government now has to work with us and at least two other crossbench MPs to get the numbers they need to win upper house votes against the Liberals. 

And this week they were forced to negotiate with the Greens and crossbench after the Liberals and Nationals announced they would put a motion to vote in parliament that would establish a new, temporary committee to look into allegations of Labor misconduct made in a recent letter to the parliament from outgoing IBAC commissioner, Robert Redlich.

Redlich’s letter accuses the Labor government chair of the Integrity and Oversight Committee of preventing him from speaking in a public hearing, and accuses other Labor MPs on the committee of secretly instructing an auditor to ‘find dirt’ on IBAC to undermine it (among other allegations).

In his letter, Redlich called for an overhaul of the Integrity and Oversight Committee to end Labor’s domination and abuse of it, which has been preventing IBAC from doing its job. 

In response to the letter, the Liberal-National coalition decided to put forward a motion in the upper house which would establish a temporary select committee to look into these allegations.

While we thought the coalition’s temporary committee wasn’t a bad idea, we were concerned that at a big cost to the state budget, it would just result in a bunch of headlines rather than real concrete improvement to Victoria’s anti-corruption mechanisms.

We figured we could get something better: to push the government to relinquish their control over the Integrity and Oversight Committee, which was the key recommendation of Redlich’s letter. 

The committee proposed by the Coalition would not be able to achieve this reform. It would generate headlines and embarrass junior government MPs, but it wouldn’t lead to any meaningful government action.

Pushing the government to relinquish their majority on Integrity and Oversight Committee would achieve something integrity experts and the Greens have been seeking for years, and it would prevent a repeat of the events exposed in Redlich’s letter, while allowing the new committee to investigate those or any other corruption related matters.

Knowing the government did not want to deal with the budget hit and the months of headline headaches that would come with the Coalition’s select committee (would Labor need to employ yet more communications staff!?), we pushed them to agree to our integrity reforms in exchange for our vote against the Coalition motion.

And it worked. They agreed (somewhat reluctantly) to this important concrete improvement to Victoria’s integrity system. 

The move has since been endorsed by integrity experts, like the Centre for Public Integrity, who have long been calling for an overhaul of Labor dominated parliamentary committees. And former Victorian Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles, KC, who was one of the founders of IBAC, welcomed the change, saying, “It’s important that a committee that is there to oversee government isn’t controlled by government.”

This is what happens with more Greens in Parliament: Labor is pushed to move further and faster on the issues that matter to Victorians. 

There’s a lot more work to be done to improve integrity in the Victorian parliament, so we plan to keep it up!

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