Second IBAC probe into Victorian firefighter pay deal revealed

Talking points

  • Sources have confirmed there is another IBAC investigation into alleged leaks during the contentious Victorian firefighter pay dispute.
  • IBAC is also conducting Operation Richmond, an investigation into the negotiations between the state government and United Firefighters Union that preceded the pay deal.
  • It’s possible reports into both inquiries will be released before this year’s state election in November.

The state’s anti-corruption watchdog is investigating the firefighters union in a second, previously unreported, inquiry that will examine the alleged leaking of confidential information during its toxic war with the Andrews government over a pay deal.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) was already examining dealings between the union and state government in an inquiry known as Operation Richmond, which began in 2019. The second probe, focussing on leaks from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) to the United Firefighters Union (UFU), has not been disclosed.

Firefighters’ union chief Peter Marshall at a rally related to the 2016 pay dispute.Credit:Justin McManus

Three sources familiar with the separate inquest, speaking anonymously due to confidentiality requirements, confirmed witnesses had recently received draft reports to enable them to respond to adverse findings before their possible public release. Witnesses are prohibited from publicly discussing any information about the report during this phase.

The completion of the second inquiry, which does not involve the Andrews government, comes as IBAC finalises the Operation Richmond inquiry, which has been examining the long-running pay dispute and fire services reforms that benefitted the UFU.

One of the issues being considered by Operation Richmond is how powerful union boss Peter Marshall, Premier Daniel Andrews and public servant Tony Bates ended the deadlock and brokered a pay deal. That deal prompted minister Jane Garrett to resign because she did not support concessions given to the union. Current and former ministers were interviewed for that inquiry.

Amid these rancorous negotiations, the personal communications of senior MFB officials were allegedly being leaked to the UFU. Two sources said government officials were occasionally told about future MFB requests by the union before the MFB confirmed them to the government. This raised suspicion information was being improperly disclosed to the union by brigade staff.

The Herald Sun reported in 2019 that leaders of the metropolitan brigade believed their emails, phone calls and personal meetings were being hacked and bugged, and that IBAC was looking into these allegations.

A spokeswoman for the anti-corruption commission said the agency “does not comment on whether it has a complaint or investigation before it”. A spokeswoman for Fire Rescue Victoria, which replaced the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, said the agency was “not in a position to comment on this matter”.

Jane Garrett when she was a minister in 2015.Credit:Simon O’Dwyer

Mr Marshall, who has never publicly addressed or confirmed the corruption inquiries, declined to comment when contacted by The Age.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Brad Battin said: “I look forward to Operation Richmond becoming public, and we can begin the process to remove corruption in government and the fire services in Victoria, we need to rebuild the trust in all our emergency services.”

Reports from both inquiries may be released publicly before the November 2022 election. Operation Richmond poses a political risk for the Andrews government, while the second inquiry could ensnare union officials facing growing internal resistance from enemies of Mr Marshall, who has ruled the union with an iron grip.

The fire services dispute is one of the most controversial episodes in Mr Andrews’ eight-year premiership, along with the “red shirts” rort where public money was wrongly used to pay for Labor’s campaign.

The Premier refused to answer questions about Operation Richmond in February despite confidentiality requirements being dropped due to a legal bungle.

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