Witness welfare probed

Former Casey mayor Amanda Stapledon. Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

An inquiry has been launched into the management of witnesses’ welfare by IBAC in the wake of the sudden death of former Casey mayor Amanda Stapledon.

Victoria Parliament’s Integrity and Oversight Committee announced on 10 February that it would hold public hearings on the issue.

It will examine IBAC (the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission) and other state integrity watchdogs – the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, the Victorian Inspectorate and the Victorian Ombudsman.

Committee chair and Labor MP Jill Hennessy said the committee unanimously resolved on 9 February to make the issue its “focus” in its annual review and monitoring of the integrity agencies’ performances.

Ms Stapledon, 58, was said by friends to have been rocked by an IBAC inquiry into alleged corruption by Casey councillors.

She was found dead in a car in Stringybark Drive about 12.30pm on Tuesday 18 January.

Her death is not being treated as suspicious, Victoria Police stated.

Her close friend Kerril Burns was among several who said the two-year IBAC inquiry had a deep impact on Ms Stapledon.

She called for a thorough investigation of the treatment of IBAC witnesses.

At the IBAC Operation Sandon inquiry in 2020, Ms Stapledon conceded that she’d failed to properly declare a conflict of interest at council – namely a $25,000 state election donation from property developer John Woodman who had a stake in rezoning industrial land in Cranbourne West.

After the 2016 council election, Ms Stapledon also omitted declaring being part of Mr Woodman’s $100,000 campaign for a group of “like-minded” candidates.

She had said she was uncertain whether Mr Woodman had funded the campaign.

The inquiry also examined her meeting with Mr Woodman shortly before being elected as mayor in 2018.

“Mr Woodman has never asked me to do anything for him,” Ms Stapledon told the inquiry.

“I need to be very clear there: he has done nothing improper in that regard.”

An IBAC spokesperson said that IBAC “welcomes the opportunity to participate in the IOC’s regular annual review of integrity agency performance, and answer questions on witness welfare and other aspects of IBAC’s role”.

The inquiry’s report is due to be tabled in Parliament by 23 June.