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Victorians are willing to help stamp out corruption, they just need to know how

Only around a quarter of Victorians know how or where to report public sector corruption, a new survey suggests, and about 40% believe there are typically “personal costs” for those who do.

Just 23% were confident they knew how to report it, and 24% were certain about where they would go, while the numbers at the opposite end were 13% higher in each case — 36% definitely did not know how, and 37% had no idea where such reports go.

And of 1236 people who answered the questionnaire, only 20% had confidence that witnesses would be protected from victimisation, while a piddling 25% believe “meaningful action” would be taken following a report.

Even so, 75% said they would report any corruption they witnessed and 56% see preventing corruption as a collective responsibility of the whole community, despite the risks, the uncertainty about how to go about it, and doubts about how effective the response would be.

Countering this is a surprising streak of naivety; only 62% agreed that corruption happens at all in Victoria, despite several very clear examples being reported publicly in recent years, and only 42% think it is a problem for the state.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission surveyed community perceptions of corruption in late 2016, following previous surveys on attitudes within the public sector, and reported its findings today.

The watchdog explains it used quotas to canvas “a mix of age groups, genders and locations” but also informs readers that “caution should be exercised before generalising the results to the broader community” because this group is not a random statistical sample.

Only 19% of respondents had a clear idea about what general members of the community could do to prevent corruption, which helps explain why nearly half didn’t think this was their responsibility. “It’s not my role as I do not work in the public sector,” said one respondent, and another told the watchdog: “I am not in a position of power to prevent anything, let alone corruption!”

According to the report, the agency simply suggests we can all act with integrity ourselves, and speak up if we witness crooked behaviour.

IBAC chief executive Alistair Maclean’s take-away is that more awareness-raising is needed around reporting channels and protections available to witnesses and whistleblowers.

“It’s concerning that there are low levels of confidence in the protections provided to those reporting corruption,” he said in a statement today.

“Victoria’s protected disclosure legislation protects people who report public sector corruption and misconduct in good faith.

“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.”

The survey also revealed that in the public mind, there is a hazy definition of corruption. A strong majority of 77% agree that a public servant taking a bribe to award a contract to a supplier is definitely corrupt, but Victorians are not so worried about government employees spending a small amount of tax dollars on themselves.

So, if you’re a Victorian public servant thinking of putting a $50 personal taxi ride on a government credit card, rest assured that most members of the public (56% in the IBAC survey) don’t think that counts as corrupt conduct.

In contrast, previous IBAC surveys revealed the majority of police officers and local and state government employees believe it definitely is a form of corruption — or at least they know they right answer to put down.

“It’s important we remember that corruption is not a victimless crime,” said Maclean. “Public sector corruption wastes taxes and rates that should be used for facilities, services and projects to benefit the community, including in areas such as education and emergency services. Victorians rightly expect responsible and honest use of public funds to deliver public sector services.”

Public sector employees are more confident that “meaningful action” will be taken in response to evidence of corruption than members of the public: 38% of Victoria Police, 29% of state government and 40% local government respondents answered this question in the affirmative compared to a quarter of other members of the community.

“This may reflect greater levels of awareness of integrity systems and the impact of corruption prevention initiatives,” Maclean suggests.

“Public sector agencies are educating their employees, while major IBAC investigations have also helped to place a focus on stamping out corruption.

“IBAC investigations have led to prosecutions, convictions, the recovery of public funds, and, most importantly, improvement in public sector systems and practices to prevent corruption. State government departments and local councils have advised us of new measures they are taking to identify and prevent corruption. This shows that reporting corruption can lead to meaningful action.”

“IBAC will continue our work to raise awareness about corruption and its impact on our state, and to encourage people to report it.”

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.