By Paul Hemsley
Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has formally declared that phone tapping powers will be granted to Victoria’s recently established Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) as soon as its predecessor, the Office of Police Integrity (OPI) is abolished.
The move clears an important legal roadblock in the creation of the new watchdog which had become the subject of a verbal spat between Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and Ms Roxon over what is effectively the handover of bugging powers from one agency to another.
The dispute between the Commonwealth’s Chief Law Officer and the Victorian Premier centred around a series of delays in the creation of the IBAC, including the legal necessity for Canberra – which controls phone tapping and surveillance powers – to bookend the cessation of one agency’s bugging powers with the enablement of another’s.
Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu created the IBAC to replace the OPI, which he had trenchantly criticised as Opposition Leader in 2010 because of corruption uncovered within the anti-corruption watchdog itself.
In a move to secure the IBAC’s place as the OPI’s replacement, Mr Baillieu had demanded that Ms Roxon revoke an existing declaration that allows the OPI to intercept communications.
According to the Attorney-General’s office, Ms Roxon’s declaration will take effect when the Office of Police Integrity is dissolved.
The road was paved for the IBAC to receive these phone bugging powers when the federal government passed Telecommunications Interception and Other Legislation Amendment (State Bodies) Act 2012, which amended the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.
That amendment was meant to support both the IBAC and the South Australian Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) by enabling these bodies and the Victorian Inspectorate (VI) to use and communicate existing intercepted information.
The Act also allowed the Victorian Public Interest Monitor (PIM) to access relevant information and appear at applications for warrants.
The SA watchdog was only created in November 2012 and the government there is still searching for a Commissioner to fill the role.
Ms Roxon said Commonwealth would not wear the blame for the amount of time it had taken to set up the IBAC.
“The people of Victoria have waited a long time for Mr Ballieu (sic) to take action on his election commitment, so the Commonwealth Government decided to move quickly so that not one day of the frustrating delay was at the Commonwealth level,” Ms Roxon said.
Ms Roxon said the Commonwealth has stood ready for almost two years to make this declaration.
“We took action on the first day it was possible to declare the new Commission as an interception agency,” she said.
She said it is important to ensure anti-corruption bodies in Australia are equipped with the “appropriate tools” as all Australian governments have a “zero tolerance attitude” towards corruption.
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