IBAC anti-corruption campaign sheds light on grey areas

By David Donaldson

Monday February 6, 2017

Most would agree a government agent giving contract work to an unqualified friend would be corrupt, as would a public employee buying land about to be rezoned after seeing confidential documents. What about a council employee selling off broken items from the depot? Or a public servant telling their boss their partner is applying for a job in the same department, which they subsequently are hired for?

These are questions Victoria’s corruption watchdog is asking in an online quiz as part of its ongoing community education campaign to increase awareness about what does and does not count as corruption (and in case you were wondering: the first three examples are corrupt, but hiring the partner of an existing employee, if they are the best person for the job, is not).

The drive has already led to an increase in visits to its online complaint form, says the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

Spotting corruption can be quite difficult — by nature it tends to be hidden — particularly for those outside government, so IBAC launched its “when something’s not right, report it” campaign in December to help improve understandings of what constitutes corruption and how to report it.

The campaign features outdoor advertising on bus, train and tram shelters, metropolitan and regional newspaper and radio advertising, digital media and some catch-up TV. The coming phase also involves a focus on Victorians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds with translated advertisements to feature in community media. The campaign will run until April.

Although IBAC has done an excellent job since it was set up in 2011, argues former Victorian Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles QC, “IBAC cannot fight the war against corruption alone. To match IBAC’s excellent record, it is now up to the Victorian community to do its part, support IBAC’s community campaign and, when something’s not right, to report it.” Charles adds:

“Corruption is usually secret, well-hidden, and difficult to discover, expose and investigate. Even with IBAC’s skilled investigative staff and wide powers, the discovery and exposure of corrupt conduct remains a critical problem. For example, there is nothing on the face of large payments being made to legitimate ‘program coordinator schools’, apparently to administer funds for specific purposes, or when transport executives allocate and administer transport-related contracts to others, to suggest that in either case there is corruption or even impropriety involved.

“Many — if not most — IBAC investigations are commenced as a result of well-informed tip-offs from within or outside the public sector. Without such information, IBAC’s ability to assess and investigate possible instances of corruption by state or local government agencies, Members of Parliament, the judiciary and Victoria Police would be severely hampered.”

The anti-corruption agency recently released the final report on its investigation into the Department of Education and Training’s failed software system Ultranet, a case Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles says has been the “biggest wake up call” for the Victorian Public Service in a long time.

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