ICAC investigations reveal flaws in NT government employment screening

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday June 14, 2021

northern territory parliament house
(Image: Adobe/Marco Taliani)

Independent commissioner against corruption Ken Fleming has raised concerns about the Northern Territory government’s employment screening processes after finding two individuals dishonestly gained public service jobs.

Fleming has, as a result of the investigations, called on the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment to develop and publish guidance on risk-based employment screening.

In October 2020, Fleming released a report into allegations that Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH) security and site manager Ashley Brown had fraudulently gained employment at the hospital by fabricating documents.

In a new report, released last week, Fleming has revealed Brown had also stolen money from RDH patients ‘which was within his care and custody’.

While in his role as security and site manager, Brown took $2,635 in patient money from a safety deposit box and banked it into his personal bank account, Fleming found.

“After a query from a colleague about the missing money, he claimed he forgot he had taken the money and was waiting for direction from his manager on where to bank it,” he said.

Fleming found Brown engaged in corrupt conduct, and his behaviour ‘constitutes reasonable grounds’ for his dismissal or termination.

“The behaviour is connected to public affairs, and it involves dishonesty. In addition, the taking of the money was illegal, unauthorised or inappropriate performance of official functions, and had an adverse effect on the honest performance of official functions by a public officer,” Fleming concluded.

Brown had a prior conviction for stealing, which Fleming said may have stopped his employer from hiring him in the first place had it been known. The ICAC has raised concerns about the NT government’s current employment and screening processes, which don’t require applicants to declare their criminal history, past convictions, or any disciplinary or performance proceedings.

“There are also no risk-based employment screening guidelines that identify high risk roles and appropriate recruitment practices such as criminal history checks,” Fleming added.

Read more: Vic government departments have ‘well-designed’ employment screening policies, but are still at risk of hiring corrupt workers, audit finds

In another report released last week, the ICAC revealed Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities employee Shaylee Sten had ‘dishonestly’ gained employment at the department — then known as Territory Families — by giving a false phone number for a referee and pretending to be that referee.

Sten also lied when stating that her previous employer would ‘like to have kept her’, despite having been dismissed as a result of an internal investigation into fraud, Fleming found.

The New South Wales ICAC has estimated that 20-30% of job applications contain false information, Fleming noted. He said hiring staff who have lied in job applications can pose a ‘serious improper conduct risk’.

“Hiring such people can lead to further corrupt conduct, poor provision of services, affect an agency’s reputation and impact morale,” he said.

“There have been a number of cases of officials with fraudulent or non-existent qualifications, who obtained positions as public officers falsely and went on to commit other offences.”

More rigour could have been applied to the recruitment process before Sten was appointed ‘if risk-based screening processes were in place’, Fleming found.

As a result of the investigations into Sten and Brown, the ICAC has recommended that the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment develop and publish guidance on risk-based employment screening. The guidance should, among other things, explain the reasons for a risk-based approach to employment screening, and outline the types of pre-employment screening checks that may be required, depending on the risks.

Fleming is set to retire from his role next month.

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