Daniel Andrews won’t stand down over reports Ibac is investigating his role in firies dispute

Victorian premier insists he has behaved ‘appropriately at all times’ including in his dealings with the firefighters’ union

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has rejected calls to stand down over reports the state’s anti-corruption body was probing his dealings with the firefighters’ union.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (Ibac) has been investigating the United Firefighters Union’s role in Victoria’s fire services reform since 2019.

Andrews’ involvement in the Ibac investigation was first reported by the Age newspaper on Wednesday and has been verified by Guardian Australia.

The Ibac investigation is exploring whether the government’s dealings with the UFU secretary, Peter Marshall, were transparent during the long-running industrial dispute.

People familiar with the investigation have said the actions of Andrews and a former senior public servant from his office were being examined as one part of the Ibac operation codenamed Richmond.

The high-level investigation has involved thousands of pages of evidence including telephone intercept records and subpoenaed documents.

Many individuals central to the investigation, considered one of the most expensive in the anti-corruption authority’s history, were interviewed last year, the Guardian understands.

Andrews batted away questions about the probe on Wednesday, firstly outside parliament and then again during question time. Under the Ibac Act, it can be an offence for an individual to confirm they are being examined.

“If you want to know what Ibac is doing and who they’re doing it with, then you need to speak to Ibac. I cannot provide you with any other answer,” Andrews told reporters. “I behave appropriately at all times and I’m focused on always doing what is the appropriate thing to do.”

Victoria’s opposition has called on the premier to resign if his role was being investigated.

The shadow attorney general, Tim Smith, told reporters: “The former premier of NSW resigned because she was under investigation by Icac. The premier of Victoria is under investigation by our anti-corruption commission, Ibac, why hasn’t the premier stood down?”

When asked if he would stand down pending the outcome of any Ibac investigation, Andrews replied: “Absolutely not”.

“I will not be doing anything other than my duty and what I’m sworn to do and that is to work as hard as I can to deliver on my commitments to the community, keep the community safe and make sure that we can deliver our roadmap to opening,” he said on Wednesday.

Ibac refused to comment on the Age report. “As a matter of practice, Ibac does not comment on whether it has a complaint or investigation before it,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the UFU also declined to comment.

The genesis of the Ibac investigation is a 2014 dispute between the United Firefighters Union and the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

The CFA had been concerned that the UFU would be handed undue control over country firefighters under a proposed enterprise bargaining agreement.

Andrews was elected premier in late 2014 when the brawl was still in its early stages.

Over the next three years, the dispute became increasingly toxic, claiming Andrews’ emergency services minister, Jane Garrett, and many senior officials in the firefighting services, both the volunteer-based CFA and the professional Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

Andrews subsequently announced a solution: he would merge the two fire services under a new body now called Fire Rescue Victoria. The move was seen largely as a way of appeasing Marshall and the union.

But senior figures within the fire authorities continued to resign as the reforms were pushed through, culminating in the official merger of the services in 2020.

The news of Andrews’ involvement in an Ibac investigation came days after the anti-corruption body confirmed it would hold public hearings as part of a separate inquiry into the conduct of former Labor ministers.

Last Thursday, Ibac confirmed it would hold public hearings as part of its investigation into alleged branch stacking by Adem Somyurek which he denies. Those hearings are due to start on Monday.

- with Australian Associated Press

Contributor

Nino Bucci

The GuardianTramp

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