No room for complacency in building a corruption resistant public sector

By Stephen O'Bryan

October 11, 2016

IBAC’s mission is to create a highly corruption resistant Victoria, but we cannot do this alone. Detecting and preventing corruption is not just up to IBAC or the other integrity agencies. The best form of defence comes from within, and all public sector employees have a responsibility to help prevent public sector corruption and to make sure public funds are being spent as intended — delivering important government services and infrastructure for all citizens.

” … because corruption normally occurs in secret, and usually there is no victim who is motivated to blow the whistle on it.”

People who work for a state government department or agency, a council or for an MP, have obligations to their employer, colleagues and the community to report any wrongdoing. If you see something that you suspect or know is not right, you should report it.

Corruption impacts us all. None of us can afford to ever be complacent. We must avoid naivety, because corruption normally occurs in secret, and usually there is no victim who is motivated to blow the whistle on it. Ultimately, the victim is all of us, as the unwitting Victorian taxpayers. We are all victims in the sense that public confidence diminishes in a public institution where integrity is found to be lacking.

To help achieve the vision of a corruption resistant Victoria, we are reliant on public sector employees to bravely speak out about any suspected corrupt practices or improper conduct. We also rely on the cultivation of a culture within the public sector of zero tolerance towards corruption. To help foster a culture of reporting corrupt conduct, and to give whistleblowers the confidence to do so, IBAC works to promote and support Victoria’s protected disclosure regime. We also undertake a range of other functions — investigating and exposing, as well as preventing and informing.

Mandatory reporting

The introduction of mandatory reporting for Victorian public sector heads, which comes into effect on December 1, will further strengthen our anti-corruption approach. Mandatory reporting is currently in place in other Australian states, and helps facilitate the development of the desired culture of zero tolerance for corruption, and of public servants speaking out when they suspect or see it.

Mandatory reporting will also assist in providing a more complete picture of the types of corrupt practices and risks facing public sector bodies. Through our research and strategic intelligence, we will be better placed to share this information with the sector to inform prevention efforts.

IBAC research shows most people want to do the right thing and would report suspected corruption if they saw it. By informing Victorians about the work we do at IBAC and the protections available to people who make disclosures, we work to give people the confidence to report corruption, safe in the knowledge that they will be listened to, their information will be handled confidentially, and they will be protected from reprisal.

Public hearings only when necessary

The often quoted aphorism “not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” is evident in stopping corruption. Our approach to investigating allegations is an important component of our work in fighting corruption and serious police misconduct in the public sector. Some of our investigations have involved public hearings, and we have now held four public hearings into separate matters, many of which have attracted extensive public interest. However, much of our investigative work has to be done in private, for legal and operational reasons.

Public hearings are an effective weapon in the fight against corruption. Holding hearings in full public view enables IBAC to fulfill a primary function of exposing corrupt conduct, but they also assist in preventing it. IBAC conducts public hearings only in exceptional circumstances and when they are determined to be in the public interest. The decision to hold public examinations is not one taken lightly, and there are strict criteria under our legislation for witnesses to be examined in public.

IBAC’s experience has shown that they encourage and empower people to come forward with pertinent information both in relation to the matter under inquiry and other matters involving possible public sector misconduct and corruption. Additionally, they engender public confidence in the investigation itself and its outcomes and perhaps more importantly, by focusing attention on weaknesses in systems and practices within the agency concerned, they provide an impetus for public sector leaders to act quickly to prevent corruption.

As a result of our Operations Dunham and Ord public examinations into the Victorian Department of Education’s Ultranet project, and the misuse of ‘banker schools’ by a group of senior education staff, we saw the department implementing immediate actions to strengthen its financial controls and compliance, policies and systems around conflicts of interest, gifts, travel and hospitality, and wider reforms to create an integrity culture.

Additionally, all departmental secretaries have committed to a program of reform to strengthen integrity and prevent corruption across the Victorian public sector. It is doubtful whether such a quick and comprehensive public sector response would have occurred without the high level of public exposure achieved by our public inquiries.

Prevention through knowledge

Investigations are only one way in which we work to expose and prevent corruption. We see our prevention work as of equal importance to our investigations.

Our prevention role primarily involves informing public sector agencies on systemic issues and vulnerabilities, and making recommendations to prevent corruption. This is achieved by sharing the findings of our investigations and intelligence gathering, as well as undertaking research and reviews to identify corruption risks and vulnerabilities. A full knowledge and understanding of such practices and risks can help public sector agencies improve their own corruption resilience through appropriate internal policies, practices and ongoing internal education.

About the author
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
The Mandarin Premium

Insights & analysis that matter to you

Subscribe for only $5 a week


Get Premium Today