Ombudsman accuses Daniel Andrews of undermining corruption fight

Ombudsman Deborah Glass has sent a scathing letter to Premier Daniel Andrews that questions his government's commitment to fighting corruption and misconduct, saying it was "seriously underfunding" the integrity agency in what appeared to be an attempt to undermine it.

Ms Glass' decision to write personally to Mr Andrews in November and to directly question his commitment to ensuring integrity in government marks an escalation in tensions between them.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass says she might have to make 20 per cent of her staff redundant.Credit:Simon Schluter

The November 13 letter, which is marked "Official", said Ms Glass felt it necessary to alert Mr Andrews that his government's funding decisions meant she would be forced to sack investigators responsible for unearthing corruption, misconduct and maladministration in the public sector.

"I recognise the extraordinary financial challenges facing the government, but this is also a time when the accountability of government is an ever-increasing public concern," she wrote, copying the letter to the Treasurer Tim Pallas and Attorney-General Jill Hennessy.

"Your government has, understandably, spent millions on inquiries and royal commissions. Yet while its own Ombudsman has the powers of a royal commission and a proven ability to investigate matters of serious public concern in a highly cost-effective manner, the apparent reluctance to fund my office to a sustainable level risks looking like an attempt to undermine it.

"You will appreciate this principle is even more important when those integrity agencies are currently investigating matters connected to the government."

This week, the bipartisan parliamentary committee that oversees the Ombudsman and the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Committee tabled a report highlighting how both agencies were demanding more funding to fight corruption and misconduct.

On Wednesday, The Age revealed that IBAC chief Robert Redlich had warned publicly that the failure to adequately resource his agency was weakening it in the fight against graft and police misconduct.

"Investment by governments to ensure our integrity agencies are properly resourced to do their work, is necessary and prudent,” Mr Redlich said.

Official sources have told The Age that neither agency can keep up with increasing demand, with serious corruption allegations being overlooked because of a lack of investigators and technical staff such as surveillance operatives.

Daniel Andrews on Wednesday.Credit:Joe Armao

The Premier slapped down those arguments, saying they had "no basis in fact whatsoever" and that Ms Glass' "rhetoric" was divorced from reality.

"When I know comments to be wrong, particularly when people are speaking about my motives, I think I am perfectly entitled to be able to correct that record," Mr Andrews said at the time.

The Ombudsman received a funding increase in the state budget from $16.2 million last year to $19 million. But Ms Glass has said the allocation in effect amounted to a funding cut because the office spent close to $22 million last year, more than $5 million over budget, meaning this year's funding was around $2 million less than was required last year.

The under-resourcing of IBAC was also at the centre of a 2018 bipartisan parliamentary committee report which called on the agency to be given far greater capacity to investigate serious police misconduct. Its recommendations have not been acted on by the government.

Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien has accused the government of starving the integrity agencies of resources because they are "examining Labor Party corruption". He has accused the Premier of misleading the public about the government's support of IBAC.

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