The head of Victoria’s corruption body says any suggestion he ignored or did not address the issue of witness welfare, where known, is wrong.
IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich said on Monday during a parliamentary inquiry that the voluntary body preferred the welfare of witnesses, despite having no legal obligation to do so.
“Any opinion that we have ever ignored such information and did not address the issue of welfare, if known, is simply wrong,” Mr Redlich told the Committee on Integrity and Supervision.
Former Mayor Casey Amanda Stapledon was found dead a few days after receiving a draft IBAC report on alleged corruption in January. There were no suspicious circumstances of her death.
Mr Redlich was also asked why some witnesses reportedly testified privately rather than at public hearings after Prime Minister Daniel Andrews declined to say whether he had been secretly questioned as part of an IBAC investigation.
“It was a common occurrence when some witnesses heard their testimony in public and others in private,” said Liberal Committee member Brad Rowswell.
“I want to know whether these witnesses were involved… or whether the evidence was heard privately on the basis of a decision taken by the IBAC?”
Mr. Redlich said that, as far as he knew, no witness had ever asked for a private hearing compared to a public one.
“Certainly, in the case that you mean, there was no such request,” he added.
Mr Redlich said the decision to interview witnesses privately along with current public examinations was based on whether the IBAC was able to meet the criteria under the law.
Mr Redlich said special reports published on public examinations included reasons for public or private questioning of witnesses.
“If it is decided to question a witness privately, it is because one or more criteria cannot be met,” he said.
“And the sooner we are able to get these special reports in the public domain, the better for everyone so that there is no speculation about these issues.”
During the hearing, Mr. Redlich was pressured on how to treat the witness if the IBAC learned that they had mental health problems.
“Then you make a decision based on confidential information that this person will be dealt with privately?” Asked Liberal Committee member Kim Wells.
“Of course not,” replied Mr. Redlich.
“I want to assure you, Mr. Wells, that I am not aware of any circumstances during my tenure as Commissioner … if the Commission has received information indicating that a person has mental health problems, well-being problems or suicidal thoughts, that’s right. ” t is addressed in such a way as to ensure the protection of the welfare of the witness ”.
Mr Redlich said there was “a lot of misinformation” in the public about how witness welfare issues were addressed during the IBAC public hearings.
The good faith body had to make sure that there were exceptional circumstances that justified the interrogation of witnesses in the public interest and that no “unjustified harm” would be done to their reputation or well-being.
Mr Rowswell noted that there had been suicides before he was cut off by committee chairman Harriet Shing for violating committee rules.
The committee limited itself to reviewing the activities of voluntary bodies, and was prohibited from mentioning specific issues related to investigations.
However, Mr Redlich said the IBAC was “concerned” to resolve any issues.
“We would like to be able to satisfy all members of the committee as much as possible, that this particular event should not cause the committee cause for concern. “We are particularly saddened by the fact that both the committee and we are limited in how far we can investigate this issue,” Mr Redlich said.
“We seek to resolve any residual issues that exist in connection with this issue.”
Mental health support