IBAC complaints rising as commission sharpens focus

By Jackson Graham

December 10, 2021

The swastika ban is the first law of its kind to be proposed in an Australian state or territory. (Stephane Debove/Adobe)

Complaints are rising for Victoria’s Independent Broad‑based Anti‑corruption Commission amid the agency refining a guide to focus on areas where its service is most in need. 

Last financial year, the agency received 4965 allegations stemming from about 2800 complaints – a 17% rise on the previous year. 

But of these allegations, just 67 were investigated. About 54% were dismissed and about 38% were referred to another entity. 

Stephen Farrow, an IBAC deputy commissioner, during a webinar on International Anti-Corruption Day on Thursday, said the agency was “not in a position to investigate everything”. 

“Our decisions about which matters to investigate have to be led by intelligence and based on evidence,” Farrow said. 

To achieve this, the agency plans to focus on six areas. However, Farrow stressed the areas “don’t bind our decisions” but provided structure and guidance to pursuing investigations. 

IBAC broadly plans to focus on high-risk agencies with big workforces and complex projects such as public-private partnerships; major infrastructure projects; and undue influence across state and local government. 

It also has specific focus areas for Victoria Police – where more than half of the allegations it received related to last financial year – which include targeting high-risk units, divisions and regions; police responses to family violence incidents; as well as the use of force on people from vulnerable groups. 

Farrow said one part of the commission’s oversight of the police involved “working with diverse communities to build their trust” of the law enforcement agency.

Deputy commissioner David Wolf told the webinar that corrupt conduct was not just about individual failure. 

“One of the key focuses of this organisation is not just dealing with the person or individual circumstances, but what are the policy situations or the processes or the culture of the organization that permitted the corruption to occur?” Wolf said. 

It remained important the public sector was vigilant to small scale cases of wrongdoing or misconduct that might not attract public attention, Wolf said. “Taken together, they can have a significant impact.” 

IBAC reported this year that one-in-three Victorian Public Service and local government employees rated favouritism and nepotism in recruitment and procurement as “high risk”. 

One-in-four employees also saw high risk in their workplaces in the failure to declare or manage conflict of interest. 

“If I can suggest one simple cross-reference of the findings and these reports with your risk register, that might be a very useful exercise,” Wolf recommended to agencies. 

Working from has brought increased security and privacy risks to the public sector, Wolf said, including inadvertently discussing or exposing information to unauthorised individuals and vulnerability to cyber threats. 

“Particularly during times of emergency in crisis situations, government agencies face increasing pressure to deliver services with less opportunities for face-to-face interactions,” he said. 

“During those situations, public sector employees may come under pressure to take shortcuts to accelerate delivery. 

“And this may include initial risks of more cases of nepotism, cronyism, failure to document those decisions, a lack of transparency and overall poorer decisions being made.” 

Wolf said combating corruption could come down to leaders acting in the public interest and leading by example, as well as supporting staff and encouraging reporting of suspected corruption.  

“A culture of integrity is fundamental to corruption resistance,” he said.  


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