Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) Today the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) tabled a special report in Parliament highlighting improper conduct by former Victorian Government Minister Theo Theophanous in his role on the board of the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA). [Candobetter comment: Note that the VPA is is a major decision maker in planning in Victoria and in promoting population growth and 'managing' community opposition. Planning in Victoria has been almost completely outsourced to private developers since the 1990s. This is an obvious threat to democracy.]
The special report on IBAC’s Operation Clara investigation found Mr Theophanous engaged in lobbying activity in favour of Australian Education City’s (AEC) proposed East Werribee project. [CDB: This is basically a new city from the ground up.] In doing so he failed to declare a conflict of interest in relation to these activities at VPA board meetings, failed to register AEC as a client on the lobbyists register and sought to advance his private lobbying business by indicating to clients he had access to staff and information within the VPA that would assist with their matters.
The report highlights that Mr Theophanous sought payments from the AEC or associated entities. In lieu of direct payment for his lobbying activities, the investigation found he obtained other benefits from the AEC and a special adviser to the AEC, namely donations (including in-kind support) to his daughter’s 2018 campaign for the State electorate of Northcote*.
IBAC Acting Commissioner Stephen Farrow said the report highlights the difficulty in lobbyists undertaking roles as directors on public entity boards.
“Lobbyists’ main role is to influence government decisions in favour of private interests. A director on a public entity board should be impartial and should make recommendations that advance the public interest.
“Victoria’s current conflict of interest provisions do not go far enough when we have a situation where a lobbyist’s clients may be directly affected by the decisions of the board on which the lobbyist serves,” Acting Commissioner Farrow said.
Operation Clara identifies systemic corruption vulnerabilities and regulatory weaknesses in relation to lobbying in Victoria and makes significant recommendations aimed at increasing transparency and protecting against improper influence in political decision-making.
Key recommendations from the report include that the Department of Premier and Cabinet amend the Appointment and Remuneration Guidelines to ensure lobbyists are ineligible for appointment to a public entity board that has functions which relate to any matter on which the lobbyist has represented the interests of third parties.
Another key recommendation is for the Victorian Public Sector Commission to revise the Code of Conduct for Directors of Victorian Public Entities 2016 to expressly prohibit public entity board directors from engaging in lobbying activities on any matter that relates to the functions of the public entity.
A recent IBAC report on donations and lobbying regulation in Victoria called for urgent regulatory reforms that relate directly to the issues and risks identified in Operation Clara. At the time of the report’s release the Victorian Government announced in principle support for all recommendations.
“IBAC welcome the government’s announcement that it supports those recommendations and that it will work towards their implementation. The Operation Clara report highlights the pressing need for those reforms to ensure Victorian donations and lobbying regulations are in-step with other states and territories,” Acting Commissioner Farrow said.
For a detailed list of the recommendations, see the Operation Clara special report.
* IBAC found no evidence that his daughter was aware of the circumstances of these donations and there are no adverse findings about her in the report.
IBAC is Victoria's agency responsible for preventing and exposing public sector corruption and police misconduct. To report corruption or misconduct now, visit www.ibac.vic.gov.au/report or call 1300 735 135.
"The Victorian Planning Authority (VPA) is a State Government statutory authority that reports to the Minister for Planning. Victoria is growing, with a projected population of up to 10 million people by 2050. It is the VPA’s main task to make sure Melbourne and Victoria’s regions remain great places to live. This requires vision and long-term planning, to ensure Victorians have equitable access to employment, public transport, attractive public space and affordable housing. The VPA was founded in 2006, originally as the Growth Areas Authority (GAA), to plan Melbourne’s new suburbs in our growth corridors."