The senior attorney in charge of police oversight at Victoria’s anti-corruption agency has resigned. This is the latest in a series of high-level departures who have serious concerns about the culture and governance of the Commission.
Independent Deputy Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Broad-based Commission, Katie Miller, stepped down from her contract with nearly a year remaining, and since March has joined a director, investigative team leader, senior lawyer and at least two other lawyers.
Internal survey results recently showed that only 49% of employees agreed to be protected from retaliation for reporting inappropriate behavior at work – a response that current and former Ibac employees said highlighted the risk of corruption within the commission.
The results of the People Matter survey, conducted by approximately 85% of employees, were released internally last April and received from Guardian Australia.
More than half of the respondents did not feel psychosocially secure at work. 14% of employees were exposed to bullying, 11% discrimination, 13% sexual harassment and 7% occupational violence in the past year. The survey found that 55% of respondents intend to leave the organization in the next two years.
Regarding leaders, 48% of employees said there was a clear strategy and direction, 66% agreed that leaders demonstrate honesty and integrity, and 59% agreed that they were modeling the values of the organization.
Miller, a former executive director of Victoria Legal Aid and president of the Law Institute of Victoria, declined to comment on her departure. She has accepted a position in the federal public service.
Guardian Australia has been told that those who left the organization did so for a variety of reasons. At least two of the most recent departures had worked for the Commission for more than four years.
Marlo Baragwanath, Ibac’s chief executive officer, who started in January, said in a statement to Guardian Australia that it was clear that the survey results were affected but the commission was determined to improve its culture.
She said employee retention remains an issue that the commission is working on as part of a broader strategy developed as a result of the survey.
Another employee survey was recently completed. The results will be published internally next month.
“We assume that the effects of Covid-19 and the ongoing work to strengthen our organizational culture and the way we work will be reflected in the latest survey of our employees,” she said.
“As the CEO, supported by the Ibac leadership team, I am determined to make sure we address issues and create a positive, safe and active workplace.
“We understand that this requires long-term attention, investment and openness to continuous improvement.”
Baragwanath said police oversight remained vital and the commission would be recruiting to take on Miller’s role.
The Commission’s funding and the legal framework in which it operates remain controversial and, according to current and former Ibac staff who have spoken with Guardian Australia, could have been a factor in the survey results and key staff leaving.
Laws regulating Ibac are particularly unclear when it comes to investigating complaints about the police. Anthony Kelly, executive officer of the Police Accountability Project, said it was sad to see Miller leave as he saw signs that she was improving the handling of these cases.
He said Ibac’s “careful” interpretation of the Police Investigation Act and the associated difficulty of this type of prosecution meant that continuity was important.
“You need stability in this position in order to build institutional knowledge over time,” he said.
In a quarterly newsletter published on Wednesday, Commissioner Robert Redlich made it clear that the Commission needed more funding from the Andrews administration. The State Ombudsman, another major accountability agency, has recently made similar calls.
“I am aware of the expectations of the community, parliament and other stakeholders that Ibac will do more – to expand our independent oversight of the Victoria Police, increase the number of public sector corruption and wrongdoing we investigate and review and to provide more prevention and awareness initiatives, ”said Redlich.
“These increased levels of service cannot be achieved despite Ibac’s recent funding allocation.”
Redlich also paid tribute to Miller’s “legacy” in the newsletter.
Jeremy King, a director of the Robinson Gill law firm who represented victims on several police misconduct matters also investigated by Ibac, said there was no doubt that funding shortages were affecting the commission.
“But the really sad thing is the impact it has on victims of corruption and police misconduct,” he said.
“They will not properly investigate their cases and the officers will not be held accountable. If they’re not accountable, that culture continues. “