Ministerial diaries to be made public in integrity overhaul

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Victorian government ministers will need to declare meetings with lobbyists and stakeholders every three months, following calls from the state corruption watchdog for over a year and two investigations that exposed misconduct.

The new ministerial code of conduct announced on Friday will be effective immediately. It requires ministers and parliamentary secretaries to declare conflicts and disclose interest, gifts, benefits and hospitality, while ministers will be banned from employing family members.

Premier Jacinta Allan last month.Credit: Wayne Taylor

The code is not retrospective and will be enforced by the premier of the day. Premier Jacinta Allan did not specify which consequences could be doled out for breaches or who would be responsible for enforcement if a premier is involved in an alleged breach.

“The updated code of conduct will hold ministers and parliamentary secretaries to the highest standards – that’s what all Victorians expect and deserve,” Allan said.

Queensland, NSW and the ACT already require ministers to publish their diaries.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) in October last year recommended ministerial and staff diaries be made public in a special report on corruption risks associated with donations and lobbying.

While ministers and parliamentary secretaries will need to detail the “scheduled” meetings, stakeholders, organisations and third-party lobbyists each quarter, their staff will not face the same obligations. It is unclear what meets the definition of a scheduled meeting.

Recommendations from IBAC’s Operation Daintree investigation, and its joint Operation Watts investigation with the Victorian Ombudsman, were also addressed by the announcement.

The watchdogs in September accused the government of being slow to act on the recommendations in Operation Watts, which found “rampant nepotism, forging [of] signatures, and attempts to interfere with government grants to favour factionally aligned community organisations”.

Those allegations were first reported by The Age in June 2020.

Operation Daintree – the existence of which The Age revealed last November – did not make any findings of corrupt conduct, but said there had been a “significant erosion” of ministerial accountability. It found the Health Workers Union was given privileged access and favourable treatment, resulting in the awarding of a contract that was not in the public interest.

The Centre for Public Integrity and the Greens have called for ministerial diaries to be made public for over a year, and criticised the government as a laggard on the transparency measure.

Greens integrity spokesman Tim Read welcomed the decision, but said Victoria could go further.

“Labor really shouldn’t have to be forced by IBAC and the Greens to introduce these long-overdue reforms when there is so much more to do on raising integrity standards,” Read said.

“Investigation after investigation has shown that our state’s political integrity standards are lacking, and misconduct is rife.”

Consultation for a new Parliamentary Integrity Commission to investigate allegations of misconduct by MPs, ministers and parliamentary secretaries is also underway. A Parliamentary Ethics Committee has also been proposed.

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