Daniel Andrews has denied power is centralised in his office, after an anti-corruption inquiry found a $1.2m contract was awarded to a union due to pressure applied by Victorian government advisers.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission investigation into the contract, released on Wednesday, found staff in the health minister’s and premier’s private office “improperly influenced” health department officials to award a training contract to the Health Workers Union.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Daintree, does not make any findings of corruption against Andrews, health ministers Jill Hennessy and Jenny Mikakos, or staff working in their offices. Ibac also made no findings of wrongdoing by the HWU’s secretary, Diana Asmar.
But Ibac made a damning assessment of the “increasing influence of ministerial advisers and the centralisation of power in the PPO”.
Both Hennessy and Mikakos, who were interviewed along with the premier by Ibac, told the commission they were concerned of the growing power within the premier’s office, with latter describing it as “having its tentacles everywhere”.
After the report was tabled in parliament Andrews held a press conference with deputy premier, Jacinta Allan, in which he denied power had been centralised in his office.
“I don’t accept that at all,” the premier said. “The notion that somehow the premier’s office today is a vastly different one to what it used to be in the past and it used to be some sort of timid outfit – no, that is just not right.
“I wouldn’t expect integrity agencies who run very sweeping and broad commentary to have any appreciation whatsoever of what occurred in previous Labor or Liberal governments.”
He said his staff worked “together” with their counterparts in ministerial offices to “get things done”.
Andrews said neither Hennessy nor Mikakos raised concerns with him during their time in parliament. They resigned in 2021 and 2020, respectively.
“[They were] not comments that were ever made to me, [they were] not concerns that were ever raised to me in thousands of interactions with the two people you’ve just cited over 20 years, and in fact, longer,” Andrews said.
He repeatedly noted that there were “no adverse findings against anyone” in the report, which he described as “educational” in nature.
“The staff members that are referred to in this report do not work for the government any more and have not worked for the government for years, and … the two ministers who are referenced in the report are not even members of the parliament any longer,” Andrews said.
Opposition leader, John Pesutto, called on the premier to resign in the wake of the report.
“The premier has been in power for more than eight years. How many more reports and corruption scandals do we need before the premier understands that he is the problem?” he said.
“In the interests of Victorians, Daniel Andrews must now seriously consider whether he can tackle the corruption he’s allowed to flourish or whether it’s time for him to hand over to somebody who can.
“Because you can’t be the problem and also be the solution.”
Andrews did acknowledge “the recommendations do go to a number of serious matters”. He confirmed he would lead the process of considering the 17 recommendations, though he had reservations about one that would allow advisers to be called before parliamentary committees.
“Staff don’t necessarily sign up to be part of a political debate and be ‘on the field’, as it were,” Andrews said.
Ibac also reiterated previous recommendations, which integrity experts have repeatedly called for, including the maintenance of a lobbying register and the publication of ministerial diaries, which is currently in place in NSW and Queensland.
It also wants the definition of “lobbyist” to be expanded to ensure it captures anyone engaged in “any contact with government representatives that is calculated to influence government and parliamentary functions”.
The Victorian Greens’ acting leader, Tim Read, said the report had “laid bare the need to bring our integrity standards up to scratch”.
“This means requiring detailed diaries of ministers and parliamentary secretaries to be made public … so Victorians can see who is influencing government decisions,” he said.
“We must also legislate codes of conduct for lobbyists, ministers and their staff and strengthen them to require clearer information on potential conflicts of interest.”