Departures come as Ibac probes classified information leaks and has three outstanding reports with potential political fallout in state election year

The Victorian corruption watchdog has shed almost half its legal team in the past six months, amid internal investigations into leaks of classified information and ongoing morale issues.

Guardian Australia has confirmed seven lawyers left the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (Ibac) between November and May, in another significant exodus that occurred despite renewed efforts to retain staff in the wake of a damning survey into workplace culture.

The departures from the legal team, which typically has 15 full-time lawyers, have occurred at a delicate time for Ibac, according to current and former staff who spoke with Guardian Australia on the condition of anonymity.

It has three reports outstanding that could have political ramifications in a state election year, all of which required investigators to interview the premier, Daniel Andrews.

The commission has been investigating leaks of classified information, including drafts of those same three reports, although it said in a statement to Guardian Australia that it was confident breaches regarding its investigations came from outside the organisation.

It has also struggled to make significant headway with ongoing demands for improved legislation and increased funding, and its commissioner, Robert Redlich, is ending his five-year term at the end of this year.

“The work Ibac undertakes is meaningful, but it can be difficult; employees are unable to talk to their family or friends about what they do, and they cannot respond publicly to criticism from people under scrutiny,” an Ibac spokesperson said in a statement.

“The volume of allegations we receive, combined with our resource constraints, mean we will always have more work than we can do.

“Ibac’s leadership understands and appreciates the difficulties that can come with working in this environment and works to provide best-practice supports to all employees … The overwhelming majority of Ibac employees are passionate and dedicated to our important work.”

The recent legal departures and failure of Ibac to secure increased funding could be impacting investigations, one staffer said.

Ibac did not comment on whether it considered previous strategies designed to retain staff had succeeded, how much it had spent on contracting legal work to external lawyers in the past year, and whether it believed investigations were being compromised by the pressures on the legal team.

“There is already a backlog of work that doesn’t get done at the moment because of too few staff,” an Ibac employee said. “Mistakes are being made and useful evidence potentially lost because documents, such as summons applications, that should be turned around quickly are taking much longer than they should.”

An Ibac spokesperson confirmed the organisation was unable to increase its investigative capacity, and remained hampered by legislative issues.

When it comes to claims of privilege made by people under investigation in relation to information they have been ordered to provide to Ibac, the spokesperson said that “investigations can be impeded for inordinate periods” while the matter was resolved in the supreme court, regardless of the merit of the claims.

“Ibac recently welcomed additional ongoing funding to our base budget … this additional budget will allow Ibac to maintain its current capacity, but it will not allow us to increase our capacity.

“To effectively fulfil our functions to expose and prevent corruption and misconduct, Ibac also needs to be supported by best-practice legislation.”

On 26 May, staff within the legal department were told they would have to reapply for their jobs as part of a restructure prompted by ongoing morale and retention issues. All of the seven lawyers who left in the past six months resigned before this announcement.

Ibac reversed the decision to force staff to reapply only days later, and insists there will be enough roles under the restructure for all current staff.

During the 26 May meeting with the chief executive, Marlo Baragwanath, and the executive director of legal, Stacey Killackey, staff were told the restructure had been prompted by an external report.

The report, by Grange Advisory, found staff retention and satisfaction issues were mainly due to issues of role clarity, work allocation, access to up-to-date resources, team structure and stakeholder engagement.

An Ibac spokesperson said: “The restructure is designed to address some of these issues, improve employee engagement and empower the team to better meet the needs of the organisation.”

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