Calls for IBAC ‘dirt’ inquiry shut down by premier

Callum Godde |

Daniel Andrews rejected claims an auditor was directed to dig up dirt on the corruption watchdog.
Daniel Andrews rejected claims an auditor was directed to dig up dirt on the corruption watchdog.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has rebuffed calls for a formal inquiry into accusations Labor MPs sought to undermine the state’s corruption watchdog to deflect from government scandals.

In December, Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) boss Robert Redlich wrote to parliament’s speaker and president with concerns that partisan politics had permeated the Labor-majority Integrity and Oversight Committee (IOC).

Mr Redlich said IBAC first became concerned when Canberra-based auditor Callida Consulting tipped off the body it had been directed by an audit subcommittee to “find dirt on IBAC and data that is not readily publicly available”.

“IBAC was advised that the IOC is looking for evidence to support a narrative that ‘IBAC is not performing’,” reads the seven-page letter published in full by the Herald Sun.

Callida was appointed in 2021 to conduct an independent performance audit of IBAC and other integrity agencies, as required by law.

Before the audit was published in October, IOC subcommittee chair and former Labor MP Dustin Halse directed Callida to delete references in the report to the government underfunding IBAC.

“The chair and majority of the IOC audit subcommittee seemed intent on casting IBAC in a negative light for what we can only assume were political reasons relating to the work undertaken by IBAC,” Mr Redlich wrote.

The watchdog has a long history of probes linked to the Victorian Labor government, including over into its dealings with the United Firefighters Union, branch-stacking and union grants.

Premier Daniel Andrews rejected the allegations that his government directed Callida to dig up dirt on the watchdog.

“I reject that completely. That’s simply wrong,” he said on Thursday.

Mr Andrews said he had not seen the letter but his office could have been made aware of it.

The IOC is made up of four Labor MPs, one Liberal, one National and one Green.

In the letter, Mr Redlich said the committee should not be chaired by a government member or have a majority of government MPs.

Mr Andrews said the committee’s composition would not be changed because it had already been confirmed since November’s state election.

“I’m not having a debate with a bloke who used to run an agency who’s apparently written a letter that I haven’t seen,” he said.

He bristled when asked if the government would follow up on the claims.

“They’re so serious and they relate to the government but they’ve not been sent to the government,” he said.

An opposition move to suspend normal business in parliament on Thursday to discuss why the letter wasn’t shared with MPs was shot down by the government.

The Greens backed the suspension, declaring the non-receipt of the correspondence must be addressed.

“You couldn’t explain this with a straight face,” Greens MP Tim Read said.

While addressed to the speaker and president, the letter states Mr Redlich was writing to them to “bring to parliament’s attention” IBAC’s concerns about the composition of the IOC.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto asked Speaker Maree Edwards during Question Time to make the letter available to all members, before offering to hand it to the premier across the table. 

Mr Andrews rebuffed Mr Pesutto’s call for a judicial inquiry with royal commission powers to allow Mr Redlich and others to speak freely on the allegations.

“Former head of integrity agencies are free to speak,” the premier said.

Mr Redlich’s five-year term in the role finished at the end of 2022, with the government appointing an interim commissioner.