The Ombudsman has urged Premier Denis Napthine to overhaul Victoria’s integrity legislation because investigations into public complaints are being delayed by probes into dozens of whistleblower cases.
Ombudsman Deborah Glass said legislation introduced to establish the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission had caused the ‘‘quite serious unintended consequence’’ of a significant increase in workload at her office.
She also described Victoria’s complaints handling system as complicated and confusing, and revealed that the state lacked a secure IT system to protect sensitive disclosures.
Ms Glass told State Parliament's accountability and oversight committee that the change meant her office was almost exclusively investigating whistleblower cases referred from IBAC and that she had written to Dr Napthine about the issue. The Ombudsman could previously refer these complaints to other agencies.
She said that while fewer than 100 protected disclosure cases had been referred in 2012-13, some could take a year to investigate and others were ‘‘pretty trivial employment grievances that are dressed up as corruption matters’’.
‘‘It feels to me that that cannot be the will of the Parliament, and it certainly does not seem to me to be the will of the Victorian public, that the Ombudsman should essentially be investigating whistleblower matters rather than the concerns that they have about public administration,’’ she said.
Critics have repeatedly pointed out that IBAC does not have powers as strong as the corruption watchdogs in other states, such as the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. In April, IBAC commissioner Stephen O’Bryan recommended lowering the threshold at which an investigation can start, and the power to investigate misconduct in public office.
Dr Napthine said on Wednesday that legislation to change IBAC’s powers, as suggested by Mr O’Bryan, was being drafted. He could not guarantee that it would be implemented before the election on November 29.
Ms Glass said that despite her office receiving 30,000 complaints in 2012-13, there was still a need to educate the public about the role of the Ombudsman and for a streamlined complaints process.
She said complaints should not have to be made in writing and revealed that the complaints.vic.gov.au domain name had been registered with a view to establishing an online complaints portal.
Inspector Robin Brett, QC, from the Victorian Inspectorate, told the committee that Ms Glass had shared with him her misgivings about integrity legislation.
The Victorian Inspectorate oversees IBAC.
‘‘If protected disclosures are interfering with the Ombudsman’s ability to perform what I would think is probably the core function of investigating complaints made by members of the public ... then that would be a pity,’’ Mr Brett said.
A spokesman for the government said the concerns raised by the Ombudsman were being considered.
with Richard Willingham