The Baillieu government's leading expert on its anti-corruption watchdog has broken his silence to reveal he believes the body is "seriously flawed" and the Coalition has constrained its powers to investigate complaints.
Former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles, QC, who chaired the government's four-person expert panel on the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, said the legislation underpinning the new body "makes it very difficult for IBAC to investigate a complaint".
Mr Charles said that before it begins an investigation, IBAC is required to have enough of the facts to reach a reasonable conclusion that serious corruption may have occurred. A mere suspicion of impropriety is not enough, said Mr Charles.
"Before you can get your investigators out and your telephone intercepts in place as part of an investigation, IBAC must have a sufficient factual basis to reach a reasonable conclusion of serious corruption," he said.
On Monday Premier Ted Baillieu wrote to IBAC asking it to assess whether there should be an investigation into revelations the Liberal Party paid $22,500 to ministerial police adviser Tristan Weston. It also emerged that his Mr Baillieu's chief of staff Tony Nutt also offered to find Mr Weston employment.
Mr Weston stood aside after an Office of Police Integrity investigation exposed a campaign to undermine former police commissioner Simon Overland. Mr Weston's former boss, police minister Peter Ryan, denied knowledge of this campaign, but Mr Weston insists that Mr Ryan was aware of it.
Mr Charles said that if a corruption case such as the one involving former NSW minister Eddie Obeid – currently before that state's Independent Commission Against Corruption – happened in Victoria there was "a real danger that... IBAC would not be in a position to investigate it".
"One will often begin a corruption investigation with a mere suspicion, and time and time again during the ICAC inquiry it has been plain that it began with suspicion and no direct knowledge of corrupt behaviour."
"In my view the (IBAC) legislation is seriously flawed. There are significant barriers that have been set up. It will be possible for suspected persons – as soon as they are aware that an investigation is underway – to take steps to challenge IBAC in court thus delaying the investigation and giving those suspected of corruption the chance to destroy vital evidence."
In tapes of conversations between Mr Nutt, Mr Weston and Mr Mantach, obtained by the Herald Sun, Mr Nutt says: "(You) would have noticed that with IBAC we've put in all sorts of constraints and controls to ensure that the kind of generalised allegation and automatic destruction of people's good name has been much more severely constrained ... and we're going to have all sorts of supervising mechanisms so that they're not unchecked and rampaging around the place."
Mr Nutt, who remains Mr Baillieu's chief of staff, now stands to be one of IBAC's first subjects.
Mr Charles and the other experts spent months consulting lawyers, judges, academics, police, the journalists' union and public service representatives on behalf of the Baillieu government about the powers and scope of the watchdog. The Baillieu government suppressed the report.