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Many public servants still afraid to report corruption

The fight against corruption has received plenty of attention over the past couple of years, with several high-profile cases gaining media coverage and public sector secretaries vowing to clean up their organisations.

Nowhere has this been more noticeable than Victoria, where several scandals have rocked the state’s faith in its clean self-image. The advent of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, now five years old and enjoying stronger powers after legislative change last year, has helped reveal the extent of the problem.

Yet, despite the reforms and public commitments, it appears a significant minority of public sector workplaces still haven’t gotten the memo.

Victorian government employees are confident they know what corruption is, but many fear personal repercussions if they reported it, according to a survey released by the corruption watchdog. Moreover, a majority are unsure how to go about reporting suspected corruption, IBAC revealed on Monday.

Some of the numbers are concerning. While 79% of respondents were confident they had an understanding of what constitutes corruption, and 72% say they would definitely make a report if they observed it, only a third were confident they knew how to do so.

A significant proportion (35%) felt they would experience personal repercussions and 25% even thought they could lose their job if they reported suspected corruption. Only 21% felt they would be protected from victimisation if they did so.

Around half said they would report corruption only if they knew their report would be anonymous, and less than one-third (29%) felt their organisation would take meaningful action if a report was filed.

Incredibly, only 4% of respondents agreed their organisation has strong corruption prevention policies in place.

IBAC CEO Alistair Maclean said the research demonstrates that more work is needed to raise awareness, particularly with public sector employees, about how to identify, report and prevent corruption.

“While the majority of respondents consider reporting is ‘the right thing to do’, it is concerning that there are low levels of confidence in the protections provided to those reporting corruption,” he said.

“Victoria’s protected disclosure legislation provides protections to those who report public sector corruption and misconduct in good faith. These protections can include anonymity, protection from being fired or bullied for making a complaint, protection from defamation and detrimental action in reprisal, and immunity from civil or criminal liability or disciplinary action for making a disclosure.

“There is an opportunity for Victoria’s public sector agencies to enhance their education of employees about corruption prevention and reporting, and to promote the important role managers and protected disclosure coordinators play in supporting employees to speak up and report suspected wrongdoing,” Maclean explained.

“IBAC will continue our community education campaign to raise awareness about corruption, and is holding a corruption prevention conference this week to help the public sector build its capacity to actively resist corruption.”

A sense of personal and community responsibility is a key motivator for public sector employees in reporting corruption, the research shows. 82% agreed that “reporting corruption is the right thing to do”, and 77% agreed that they would report corruption because it “impacts the Victorian community”.

Corruption was more likely to be seen as something that occurs outside people’s workplaces, that is, as something that “happens in Victoria” (59%) rather than as a “problem in my workplace” (15%).

Around one in five public servants had observed conflict of interest occurring in their workplace, but 62% thought there was opportunity for it to happen.

The results are based on 4542 responses to an online questionnaire in late 2016 from across the Victorian public sector.

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne.