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Ridiculous limits on Victoria's corruption investigators

Date

Josh Gordon

Analysis

If there is one thing the tough and fearless anti-corruption regime in NSW has demonstrated, it is that when investigators pull a few threads things can unravel spectacularly, sometimes with huge political ramifications.

In recent years the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has cut a swath through both sides of politics, often after exposing corrupt links between political donors and MPs.

Revelations by Fairfax Media that a Victorian Labor Party figure is facing weapon charges and has received several thousand dollars in donations from people or companies connected with the Calabrian Mafia once again shine a light on the state's deficient and limp integrity regime, particularly in contrast to NSW.

The allegations might also create a fresh headache for Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews, who is already under pressure over  factional links to the building union, which has been dogged by claims of nefarious behaviour, and over the dicatphone scandal.

Under the current laws – which the Napthine government recently promised to strengthen after a couple of years of pressure – Victoria's Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission is limited to investigating only the most serious indictable offences.

It also faces a high threshold for inquiries, with legislation requiring it to possess prima facie evidence of serious corrupt conduct.

It is a ridiculous situation. Conceivably, the prima facie evidence can only be obtained through investigation, yet investigations cannot begin without that evidence. Unsurprisingly, the commission itself has raised concerns.

In a recent report, it admitted it has been unable to investigate serious allegations because the legal threshold was "vague, too high and therefore liable to challenge in the Supreme Court".

Now we have yet more questions about links between politicians and questionable political donors. Such allegations are worthy of scrutiny. Can the public, for example, be confident that democracy in this state is not being funded by the proceeds of crime? Where does the money come from? How might the crime figures stand to benefit from the relationship? How might often influential political figures benefit?

Earlier this year, Premier Denis Napthine promised to strengthen Victoria's integrity regime. Tellingly, the promise came just minutes after Barry O'Farrell resigned as NSW premier for inadvertently misleading NSW anti-corruption investigators over a bottle of wine.

The most obvious approach is to allow the commission to investigate the lesser offence of misconduct in public office, and to lower the evidence threshold to allow investigations to begin. With just three parliamentary sitting weeks remaining before the November 29 election, time is running out.

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