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A bid to ban lobbyists from serving on public boards in areas that relate to their line of work has been knocked back in Victoria as the Andrews government rejected the attempt to strengthen lobbying laws in line with recommendations from the corruption watchdog.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission tabled a special report in February that found former Labor minister Theo Theophanous had misused his position to lobby for a $31 billion “super city” in Melbourne’s west for a Chinese-backed consortium.
The Andrews government has voted down a non-government bill that would have strengthened Victoria’s lobbying laws. Credit: Justin McManus
Theophanous was a minister in the Brumby and Bracks Labor governments and served in both the upper and lower houses from 1988 to 2008. He was not referred to Victoria Police because IBAC found his conduct was improper but not corrupt.
The watchdog’s report stated that Theophanous’ daughter, the current member for Northcote Kat Theophanous, did not have knowledge of her father’s conduct.
But IBAC did make four recommendations, including preventing lobbyists from being appointed to public entity boards that relate to their line of work, which would bring Victoria into line with New South Wales and Queensland.
Acting Commissioner Stephen Farrow said at the time directors of public entity boards 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,” he said.
The Andrews government asked Theophanous to resign from all government board positions after the report was tabled and accused him of not complying with the strict rules governing public entity board members.
“The government will support in principle each of the recommendations and stands ready to make any further necessary changes,” a spokesperson said at the time.
On Tuesday, the government blocked a proposal to amend lobbying laws after the bill received the backing of Coalition, Green and crossbench MPs in the Legislative Council. Bills first passed by the upper house must be sent to the lower house before they can be made into law.
Labor, which holds an overwhelming majority in the Legislative Assembly, used its numbers to block the bill’s first reading 52-29.
In response to questions from The Age, a government spokeswoman said: “Work is under way to implement [the IBAC] recommendations.” However, she did not give a timeframe for lobbying reform.
Shadow special minister of state David Davis said Labor’s decision to block the bill was akin to “aiding and abetting ongoing corruption”.
“Labor cannot be trusted to implement the recommendations of IBAC in its Clara report,” he said.
“The time has come to act and stamp out corruption.”
Accountability Round Table board member and former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles said the government had been “ready to act” on IBAC’s Operation Clara report for nearly five months now.
“It would very much be in the interest of integrity and good government to carry out the IBAC recommendations,” he said. “Plainly, they ought to have done so.”
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