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Labor’s IBAC threat to Baillieu

June 7th, 2011 Australia

CLANDESTINE dealings between Premier Ted Baillieu’s office and ousted police deputy commissioner Ken Jones could become one of the first issues to be examined by Victoria’s new anti-corruption commission.

Victorian Labor is considering referring unanswered questions surrounding a secret meeting between Mr Baillieu’s chief-of-staff, Michael Kapel, and Sir Ken to the government’s planned new Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, to be established this year. A referral to IBAC — a body designed by the Victorian Coalition to replace the Office of Police Integrity — would embroil Mr Baillieu and Police Minister Peter Ryan and seriously embarrass the government.

Mr Ryan yesterday admitted he was also approached to meet Sir Ken but had rejected the move as inappropriate. Mr Baillieu said he became aware of the February meeting between Mr Kapel and Sir Ken only when Mr Ryan called him to express his concerns about it. Mr Baillieu was subsequently briefed by Mr Kapel on his discussion with Sir Ken — a mooted replacement for police chief Simon Overland before the deputy commissioner publicly announced his intention to quit last month.

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Senior Labor sources said Mr Baillieu had failed to provide a full and open account of the controversy. “If the Premier thinks he can stonewall his way through this sordid affair, then he is wrong,” they said.

“He should polish his answers as this may be headed to IBAC.”

The government yesterday talked up IBAC as imminent, with legislation already drafted. Under the promised laws, anyone would be able to report suspected corruption in the public sector to IBAC. During the election, the Coalition defined corruption as any decision made against the public interest or made to serve private interests.

Mr Baillieu yesterday refused to detail exactly what he knew of the discussions between Mr Kapel and Sir Ken.

“I can understand Peter’s point of view,” Mr Baillieu said.

“Michael was contacted by Sir Ken Jones and in good faith accepted having a meeting with him. He meets people all the time. I have confidence in him.”

Mr Baillieu dismissed the meeting as lacking consequence and not worthy of follow-up, but he could not have known this without having received a full and frank briefing from Mr Kapel about the discussion.

It is highly likely the tensions between Sir Ken and Mr Overland were discussed.

In an email, apparently to his wife, Sir Ken said he would be “toast” if Mr Overland was aware of the discussion.

The Chief Commissioner subsequently made a complaint to the OPI which reportedly bugged Sir Ken’s phone and those of his wife and at least one government aide. In the email, reported in the Sunday Herald Sun, Sir Ken said the meeting took place after a “private approach from government” in which he was give the mobile phone numbers of the Premier and two staff.

Mr Ryan yesterday told the ABC he had been approached by Sir Ken for a meeting in February but had declined. The Kapel meeting had been without his or the Premier’s knowledge.

“I have discussed it with him (Mr Baillieu) — he knew before yesterday but he did not know about the meeting when it happened,” Mr Ryan said.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the government had dropped the ball on law and order.

“This government is bungling this crisis and undermining the public’s confidence in Victoria Police and its ability to fight crime and keep us safe,” he said.

Mr Kapel did not comment.