Parliament integrity overhaul after Vic Labor scandals

Callum Godde |

Bullying and harassment complaints made against Victorian MPs will be investigated by a parliamentary integrity commission.

Premier Jacinta Allan announced on Tuesday the government would introduce legislation to create the commission after Labor was embroiled in a branch-stacking scandal. 

Three commissioners will be given the power to probe allegations of misconduct against MPs, ministers and parliamentary secretaries at parliament, electoral offices or work events.

Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes and Premier Jacinta Allan
Jacinta Allan wants Victoria’s parliamentary integrity commission working by the middle of next year

The bill will enact seven of the recommendations from the Independent and Broad-Based Commission and Victorian Ombudsman’s Operation Watts report into branch-stacking and misuse of taxpayer funds. 

Other proposed measures include establishing an ethics committee, improving public interest disclosures and legislating an already existing parliamentary integrity advisor.

Ms Allan wants the reforms to take effect by the middle of next year, in line with the timeline set out by Operation Watts.

“We’ve got to move our integrity framework in this place to modern standards, bring it into the 21st century,” she told reporters at parliament.

Under Labor’s model, commissioners would make findings and recommendations to parliament’s lower and upper house privileges committees.

The relevant committee would respond and table the commission’s report in parliament.

The Victorian government is not planning to give the commission retrospective powers, meaning it cannot investigate past incidents, but has vowed to consult on the final model.

Victorian MP Will Fowles resigned from the parliamentary Labor Party in August after he was accused of a serious assault.

Presiding officers were unable to investigate the alleged incident as it did not take place in the parliamentary precinct.

Police are investigating the allegation, which Mr Fowles denies. 

Victorian MP Will Fowles
Victorian MP Will Fowles quit Labor after he was accused of an assault that he denies.

Under Labor’s current proposal, allegations against lower-level parliamentary staff would not be investigated by the commission.

Anyone would be able to make complaints but they would not extend to MPs opinions or private matters.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes acknowledged there would be grey areas where MPs were in a private and work context simultaneously.

“We want to ensure that there are no barriers for anybody to make a complaint, but we do not want complaints going into the personal lives of MPs,” she said.

The commissioners would not be former MPs but people from various backgrounds, with the governor signing off on the government’s recommended appointments subject to the approval of parliament’s Integrity and Oversight Committee.

Shadow Attorney-General Michael O’Brien said the opposition would consider the government’s proposal but the commission should have retrospective powers.

“If this government is serious about bipartisanship, if it’s serious about tackling corruption and cleaning up politics in Victoria, it needs to be genuinely bipartisan,” he said.

“Five IBAC corruption reports over 15 months and the government expects us to believe that it’s serious about integrity? We’ll believe that when we see it.” 

Victorian Greens integrity spokesman Tim Reed said the reforms were better late than never, but should be sped up and go further.

“This really could be organised this year if they put their mind to it,” he said.

There are four sitting weeks left of Victorian parliament this year.