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IBAC, Ombudsman threaten MP resources

The Victorian Ombudsman and Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission have asked Victorian political party chiefs to address the misuse of parliamentary entitlements, threatening to recommend slashing MP staffing allowances.

A recent IBAC hearing - Operation Watts - unearthed evidence which indicated that parliamentarians may be misusing public resources by directing members of their taxpayer-funded parliamentary staff to undertake party-political work.

Prior to Victoria last state election in 2018, nearly 20 campaign participants from the Labor side of parliament were arrested.

It emerged that Labor had deployed casual electorate officers to publicly campaign for the party in a rort that became known as the ‘the red shirts scandal’ .

Victoria faces a state election in November, with Labor purging elements some in the party connect to the affair by preselecting fresh faces.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass expressed concern that past reforms might have fallen short:

“The evidence indicates that despite a package of reforms enacted by Parliament in 2019 in response to my “Red Shirts” report in 2018, existing laws and rules around the legitimate use of public resources are not robust enough to prevent their misuse.”

The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC and Victoria’s IBAC Commissioner, implied that the evidence uncovered at the hearings indicated that inappropriate assignments were still being carried out:

“Much of the evidence heard at the public hearings spoke about how taxpayer funds were directed to ministerial and electorate office staff to perform party‐political during work hours, rather than the job they were hired to do in performing ministerial or electorate work.”

The Ombudsman and IBAC have joined forces to request clarity relating to the appointment processes in place for recruitment of staffers by Members of Parliament.

The agencies have directly proposed that MP staffing allowances may need to be reduced.

A public report into Operation Watts will be released in 2022.