This webinar focuses on findings and recommendations in IBAC's Operation Sandon special report and explores what councils can do now to prevent corrupt conduct.
IBAC’s Operation Sandon investigated allegations of corrupt conduct involving councillors and property developers in the City of Casey. The investigation exposed corruption vulnerabilities in Victoria’s planning decision-making processes at both state and local government levels.
As a result of Operation Sandon, IBAC made 34 significant and wide-reaching recommendations to promote integrity in decision-making processes.
This webinar features short presentations as well as Q and A with:
- David Wolf, Deputy Commissioner, IBAC
- Stacey Killackey, Executive Director, Legal, Assessment & Review, and Compliance, IBAC
- Noelene Duff PSM, Chair of Administrators, City of Casey
Welcome, everyone, and thank you for joining us for our Quarterly Corruption Prevention and Integrity Insights Forum. I'm Stephen Pritchard, director of Prevention policy and research at IBAC. And I'm very pleased to be facilitating this session today. To begin today's event, I'd like to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional custodians of the land that we're broadcasting from. I'm on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. And pay respect to their elders past and present, and to any Aboriginal people joining us today. I'd also respectfully acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands and waterways across Victoria, and pay respects to elders past, present and emerging. I'm delighted that so many of you could join us today. We have received over 600 registrations for this webinar, representing agencies from across all parts of metropolitan and regional Victoria. Many of you are here today, because you're interested in hearing more about IBAC's recent Operation Sandon Special Report.
Operation Sandon investigated allegations of corrupt conduct, involving councillors and property developers in the city of Casey. The investigation exposed corruption vulnerabilities, in Victoria's planning, decision-making processes at both state and local government levels. Today's forum will explore corruption risks in local councils, by focusing on some of the findings and recommendations from Operation Sandon Special Report. Data from the recent perceptions of corruption surveys, as well as looking at practical things that councils can do to prevent corrupt conduct from occurring. And today we are joined by speakers from both IBAC and the City of Casey, who will share their insights and expertise through presentations and a Q&A. You'll shortly hear from David Wolf, the Deputy commissioner at IBAC, Noelene Duff, chair of Administrators, City of Casey, and Stacy Killackey, executive director, legal Assessment and Review and Compliance at IBAC. We appreciate that you taking time to be with us here today.
Just a couple of things that I'll do before I hand over to the first speaker. There's a button and the meeting controls to turn on closed captions if you'd like this tool. And you'd also click the interpretation button to see Oseland interpreters. If you're experiencing any technical difficulties, please first check that you've downloaded the most recent version of Zoom. There will be an opportunity to ask questions, during the Q&A session in the second half of the webinar. So please submit any comments or questions you have, by using the Q&A button at the bottom of the screen. Please be aware that we are not able to answer questions about ongoing investigations. And lastly, recording of the webinar will be made available on the IBAC website in coming weeks. So now I'm pleased to introduce our first speaker, Deputy Commissioner David Wolf. David joined IBAC in January 2020, and was previously Victoria's chief municipal inspector, and head of Local Government Inspectorate. David led much of the work on Sandon, and a large portion of this work focuses on local government in Victoria.
Over to you, David and welcome.
Great. Thank you very much, Stephen, and good afternoon everyone. Well, today I'm going to speak about some of the key findings, outlined in our Operation Sandon special report. And how those findings are reflected in our perceptions of corruption survey data, from local government staff and councillors. I'll keep this brief, 'cause I know there's many questions that we want to get to, at the back end of this session. So firstly, Operation Sandon was an investigation into allegations of corrupt conduct, between councillors and a property developer at the city of Casey. But the investigation was much broader, as we looked at the controls for safeguarding the integrity of the state's planning system, and also the integrity risks in council decision-making. This resulted in a comprehensive report tabled in Victorian Parliament, that set out the conduct of the individuals, but also detailed the evidence-based research to address the vulnerabilities that this investigation exposed. So what did the investigation find?
Well, firstly we found two councillors in particular accepted payments, to make or influence decisions in favour of an applicant involved in development activity. The investigation also exposed how the manipulation of council governance processes, donations and lobbying, improperly influenced council decisions. And our findings included, that planning and council decisions were made not in the community's interests but for private interests. We found that conflicts of interest were intentionally not declared. We found donations or payments were concealed, sometimes quite elaborately. And we found the business of lobbying public offices was largely unregulated. And we also found significant inadequacies in the Council of Conduct framework, to prevent or address misconduct. And particular example of a councillor being, having a finding of misconduct, and being rewarded with the mayoral position almost a week later. So out of the investigation, IBAC made 34 recommendations, including that the Government establish an inter-departmental task force, chaired by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
With representatives across the planning, local government, public sector, lobbying and electoral donation areas, to provide expert advice on those reforms. We've recommended the development of independent planning panels, for significant statutory planning matters. And included that routine planning decisions are made by planning professionals at the council. We've recommended independent and professional management of the Council CEO employment life cycle, with the community interests at the forefront of the management of that person. And we've also recommended the implementation of a model councillor code of conduct, and model governance rules that apply statewide. So consistent uniform rules for all Victorian councils. It's a significant report for all local governments in Victoria, as the vulnerabilities and risks of improper behaviour were not unique to the city of Casey. And the conversation should be around, what we can do now from a positive corruption prevention perspective.
And so noting that the recommendations are with government, councils can, and encouragingly many councils already have taken steps to implement what they can ahead of any legislative reform. I'm sure there'll be many questions about the report, which I look forward to answering at the back end. But if I can talk now about the work IBAC does to identify corruption risks, other than through our investigative work. So last week, IBAC released the findings of our perceptions of Corruption survey, which was completed by Victorian members of Parliament and elected councillors. And this is the first time IBAC has researched this cohort. And the research follows our 2022 survey of Victorian public sector and local government employees. Which was to understand how they perceive corruption and the integrity risks within their own organisation. So some of the survey findings will be on your screen shortly. And we've done a comparison for local government employees, and the councilllor responses for some of the key questions.
We found that almost three in four councillors, agree that corruption is a problem in Victoria. And this could be compared to around 62% of the employees in the sector. So more councillors think corruption is a problem. And this could be driven by issues that have occurred in the local government sector, and state government sector as well. The media reporting of those issues, or opinions, or actual experiences by the respondents in the survey. Three in four councillors agree that some elected officials behave inappropriately or in an unethical way. But this doesn't necessarily extend to corrupt conduct. So there's a real distinction in the responses between improper and corrupt conduct. A breach of professional boundaries, which includes improperly influencing staff or councillors, and favouritism or nepotism, which also includes conflict of interest breaches, are the behaviours considered most at high risk of occurring. And these results are very similar for the employee survey conducted last year.
But noting that employees also nominated the misuse of resources, including information as a key risk. Generally speaking, councillors are more likely to have personally observed these behaviours, compared to local government employees. And for example, 64% of personally observed or suspected a breach of professional boundaries, compared to a lower rate of employees. And why is that figure important? Well, it means that there are many instances of real or suspected breaches. Some are reported and clearly many are not. And the final figure on the screen relates to the ethical culture of the organisations. And councillors have a less positive view of the organisation than employees. Which points to an opportunity around strong governance processes, and ongoing training and guidance for the councillor cohort. These top-line findings really do point to the importance of a reporting culture. And this is something that Stacy will speak to about quite shortly. But to close out, the reason I wanted to include the survey data in the conversation today, is that it reflects the reality of what we found in the Sandon investigation.
And reinforces the point about the investigation findings not just being about Casey. They also support several of the recommendations that we've made, particularly around governance, conduct, training and reporting requirements. Which I think have a really strong and significant importance to the sector as a whole. I'll finish up there. Thanks. I'll throw it back to you, Stephen, and I'll look forward to the question session.
Thanks, David. Some really important context and insights around the special report, and what the sector has revealed around their perceptions of corruption. So I'd now like to introduce Noelene Duff PSM, chair of administrators at the City of the City of Casey. Noelene was appointed in February 2020 to the role of interim administrator at the city of Casey. She's an experienced CEO and board member, who has worked in both government and non-government sectors. Noelene is highly respected across local government sector, and received the Public Service Medal in 2020 Australia Day honours, in recognition of her outstanding service to local government in Victoria. Welcome, Noelene.
Thank you very much, and thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I too will be relying on the investigation report, and the details therein of IBAC's report published in July 2023. IBAC commenced their preliminary investigation in 2017. However, as can be seen by the report, the issues were emerging as far back as 2008, if not before. What has emerged in the IBAC report is in general terms, a litany of governance failures at the local level. In saying that, I refer to Henry Kissinger, not because he was free from controversy as a politician, but because back in the day he was famously quoted as saying, corrupt politicians make the other 10% look bad. By the way, he turned 100 this year, and in his 99th year, published a book on leadership. Where he identifies courage and strength as the most important qualities of political leaders. With that in mind, I remain intrigued as to why there was such little interest in Operation Sandon by the local government sector, over the past three and a half years since the council was sacked.
It was fairly obvious, that there would be a tranche of recommendations and changes to governance and planning in the sector as a result. During that time, further councils have been sacked by the Minister, municipal monitors engaged to work with councils, having governance and related issues, and increased complaints about council governance to the Local Government Inspectorate, IBAC and the Ombudsman. In 21 22, the Local Government Inspectorate alone dealt with 330 allegations, of which 34% related to conflict of interest, 17 the misuse of position, and 6% disclosure of confidential information. 132 warnings were issued. So if the case for change is not clear now, I'm not sure when it will be. These findings of IBAC and the continued growth of issues throughout the sector, all present a great opportunity. I also commend IBAC on the perceptions of Corruption survey and David has covered that. And most notably it highlights the views of councillors, identifying that 58% noted that councils were highly or moderately vulnerable to corruption.
So that's just in the last few months, that picture. The cracks and flaws in governance, and planning decision-making, as reported in Operation Sandon, hopefully are at the extreme end of the spectrum, but offer many opportunities for reform. It is clear from the above experience of Victoria's integrity agencies, and the ongoing issues in the sector, that there's a lot of work to do. I hope to now share briefly some of what that's meant for the city of Casey as an organisation, and as an emerging and fast-growing community of nearly 380,000 residents. As well as the broader implications and opportunities for the sector. Walking into an organisation where a council has been sacked for suspected serious corruption is quite an experience. Depriving a community of their elected representatives for nearly five years is a pretty big price to pay. However, what we found was there was tremendous guidance right around the sector in state government, and federal government. And myself, as part of a panel of three administrators, together with Miguel Belmar and Cameron Boardman, set about on that work.
In addition, our focus in the absence of councillors, was to demonstrate the best practice we could find and implement that. With the aim of cementing that practice, into the way that the organisation did business. There remains much to do, and the further challenge now is as a result of the recommendations in Sandon. Our early focus was guided by the work of the Municipal Monitor for Casey, Laurinda Gardiner. And I commend Ms. Gardiner for her astute observations and her recommendations, as that really set the framework for our work. In simple terms, the work undertaken at Casey since the council was sacked, has involved a thorough review and embedding of policies, procedures and processes. And I note the expertise of so many Casey staff in working with us as a panel of administrators on those challenges. That work led the administrators to adopt an integrity and ethics plan of 28 actions in July 2020, soon after the panel were appointed. Followed by the carry forward of three of those actions into a new plan at the end of 2021, that being our good governance framework.
So much of this work drew on policy and practice already in existence. For example, the Commission of Inquiry into Greater Geelong 2016, the Good Governance Guide produced jointly by the (INAUDIBLE) Pro, the original version of which dates back to the early 2000s. And other guidance material developed by local Government Victoria, as part of the 2020 Act reforms. The framework now in place lands many important elements of good governance for our sector. Acknowledges the complex and competing roles that both elected representatives, and CEOs, and executives in the sector face. And the missing ingredient now is the elected council. Elections obviously scheduled for October next year in line with the broader local government sector. The following elements summarize some of my key learnings from the IBAC report, focusing in particular on Section 7.3, which identified the council governance issues. Many of these matters that we have aimed to address at Casey during the period of administration.
But of course, they have many more complexities and implications when utilised with an elected council group. Defining clear roles and relationships in the organisation was a starting premise, but one that historically was quite unclear at Casey. Ensuring the council has spent time focusing on the key strategic and policy issues facing the community and the organisation, was seemingly lost in the overall breakdown of governance. The council chamber appeared to have become a stage, rather than a place where serious decisions should be made, to plot the future direction of the city. It has been distressing to reflect on some of the evidence collected by IBAC. The events documented, the conversations taped, and the stories by witnesses could actually occur. As the panel noted in our recently adopted report to Council about Operation Sandon, it is a very sobering read. The sense of us and them that had grown between councillors and officers was an unfortunate byproduct. Councillors seem to have become very involved in operational matters, some of which were generated by endless notices of motion.
Such that the proper business of the council would at times be deferred. A couple of simple examples that came to my early attention, were councillors being involved in house numbering, and the detailed allocation of sporting facilities, diverting the organisation from managing the massive challenges of growth. Further to these relationship issues, was an apparent culture of silence that developed in the Councillor group. Both the municipal monitors report and IBAC evidenced many examples, where councillors did not speak up about the behaviour they were observing. Casey is not an isolated example of this. A culture of silence amongst councillors can become insidious. As Kissinger said, courage and strength of character are required to tackle these issues. This applies to CEOs as well as to councillors. I do not for one minute underestimate, the complexities faced by a group of individuals who frequently do not share like views on many issues, being thrown together after an election, to develop an agreed vision and direction for their municipality.
Manage the overall strategic direction of a large and diverse business, as well as deal with the nuances of individuals that emerge in a group. The Sandon report noted that at the time of the alleged corruption issues at Casey, there were a raft of policies, procedures, and provisions in place. As well as the legislative provisions governing councils, but that these did not mitigate the behaviour and issues that are documented. So the necessity for more immediate means of challenging behaviour must go beyond culture. And I'm not talking about matters that are not corrupt behaviour. Remedies for poor behaviour need more immediate responses at the local level than are currently available. Political parties have some mechanisms and processes for this, but a group of councillors do not. A mayor may or may not have the skills to deal with councillor behaviour, and a CEO has tools to intervene but they are limited. The Local Government Culture project released last year, provides some insights into these issues but few answers.
That work must now be built on. Orientation and training opportunities, whilst provided, do not seem to go far enough. So it appears that a higher level of compulsory training will be required to bring councillors, particularly those newly elected, up to speed early and also be regularly refreshed. Mayors need considerable support to deliver on the new powers defined in the 2020 Act. A few seminars here and there is not enough. Once again, CEOs have a clear role to support the mayor. And the nature of that relationship is very central to the success of the mayor in their role. Greater diversity of councillors is also needed to contribute to broader representation of communities amongst elected councillors. To that end, Casey has hosted a comprehensive community leadership program over the past three years, and are doing more work in this area. An understanding of the Local Government Act, and the Planning and Environment Act, as they impact on decision-making roles of the Councillor is critical.
An appreciation of procedural fairness and natural justice is mandatory, yet frequently misunderstood by some councillors, as officers being overly bureaucratic or controlling. Yet the IBAC report highlights the fact that some councillors did not read material, and highlighted their reliance on other councillors for direction. If this is a widespread fact practice in the sector, that is a significant concern. Briefing sessions that enable councillors to ask questions and collect information on complex matters, should I believe remain a key part of the system. The council chamber is however, clearly the venue for significant decision-making by the Council, and should be respected by all parties, councillors, officers and the community. It's the key forum for reporting to the community, on the Council's adopted vision and its implementation. It's clear that council officers, chief executives and executive leadership teams in particular, have significant duty to provide frank and fearless advice, irrespective of the views and wishes of councillors.
The IBAC report demonstrates that vital role that officers have in the system, incumbent on them to also act with a high degree of integrity. And I do note that IBAC had no findings about staff at the city of Casey. Reference is made to the fragility of the councillor CEO relationship, with the CEO feeling unable to challenge the council in a public forum. The delicacy of this is hard to manage, but is part of the commitment to ensure that the Council utilises the opportunity for decision-making with the best professional information, without the CEO fearing for their future. Professional support in managing the CEO employment cycle offers some solutions, but must also recognise the importance of the Council, as employer of the CEO. The establishment of robust frameworks is a key risk management tool available to the sector now. As a result of IBAC's findings, the evolution of the principles-based Local Government Act 2020, into more prescribed practices is likely. A value from a community perspective would be consistent Councillor codes of conduct, and governance rules for all councils.
And I note Sandon repeatedly refers to the draft model of governance rules, produced by LGV in 2020. Which is not currently available on local Government Victoria's website. There are some very fundamental shifts in policy practice and behaviour, that the sector will need to embrace, to regain community confidence and credibility. And just a reminder of that 10% reference earlier. Together with more consistent frameworks across the sector, including delegation and planning roles relative to council size, Victorian councils can move forward. Councillor success is usually regarded by councillors as success at the ballot box. However, the challenge for elected representatives in particular, is a far greater one. And that is to ensure that they balance their individual obligations, with the obligations of the community as a whole. And do that in line with their oath of office that they will discharge their responsibilities impartially. No doubt the role of the councillor is complex and demanding.
And requires such a wide range of skills and competencies in today's environment. With some proposed changes, these elected roles have the potential to become more focused on strategic and policy objectives, for the communities those councillors serve. And improve the overall perceptions of Council's performance into the future. Thank you. Thanks, Stephen.
Thanks, Noelene. Your experience and insights really, I think, strengthen and reinforce the need for reform. I'd now like to introduce Stacey Killackey, executive director, Legal Assessment and Review and Compliance at IBAC. Stacey joined IBAC in May 2021. She's an experienced lawyer with extensive previous experience in roles in both private, public and community practice. Thank you.
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you, David, and thank you, Noelene, for that very insightful talk just then. Am following on from the previous presentations. I'm going to briefly speak about the importance of reporting suspected corruption and the mechanisms to report it. So (INAUDIBLE) go back a slide. I'm obviously pushing the slides. There you go. Firstly, why is reporting corruption important? Putting aside the importance of Operation Sandon and the report and the exposure of the corruption vulnerabilities in that report. It is important because if we don't report corruption, it otherwise remains hidden. It is also important to ensure that we use our public resources effectively and properly. If corruption isn't reported, ultimately it erodes public confidence, not only in the organisation but the public sector generally. As I'll talk through shortly, employees are best placed to detect wrongdoing. And for reporting to be encouraged, we need to reduce, remove and overcome the barriers and the disincentives to report.
Before I go through some of the corruption, the survey results from our Corruption and Prevention survey. I wanted to show you a bit of the data of the complaints IBAC receives, and the trends that this data shows. Firstly, the Section 57 notifications, which is the orange line along the bottom. A section 57 notification, is a mandatory obligation, on a principal officer of a local council to report suspected corrupt conduct. That data shows that at least we are receiving under 50, 57 notifications per year across all local government councils. So that is a relatively low number. It also shows a declining trend in both complaints and paid notifications. There was an initial spike in 2020 to do with the local government elections, but otherwise the numbers have been low or declining. So what does this tell us? Well, on one hand, it could show us that there's less improper conduct or corrupt conduct occurring. But more importantly, is it showing us that people aren't reporting conduct, because they don't understand where to report, how to report or what to report?
Is it also showing us that people are fearful of reporting? This data shows the importance of organisations such as local councils or any employer, routinely doing training, routinely checking their policies and communicating the avenues to report corruption or improper conduct. Because without that it remains hidden. In terms of the perceptions of corruption on reporting, what the data shows us, is that 88% of councillors and 70% of local government employees, claim they know how to report corruption. This is compared with both 94% and 86% that if they reported corruption, they would definitely report it. What we also found, was that most local government employees will report corruption to their immediate manager at the first instance. This has been a consistent theme across all the corruption surveys that we have undertaken. What it means is managers in an organisation are hearing from staff about concerns. And it is this group in particular, that needs to understand how to escalate and report corruption or improper conduct.
This data also tells us that for many of you who work in local government, you would report corruption, or you believe you know how to. However, our other survey results show us that knowledge of what constitutes corruption varies. Half of councillors, that's only 51%, agree it's difficult to find definite guidance when seeking advice on corruption. They, we understand, rely on advice from council governance teams. This mean a council governance team needs to have the necessary information to support councillors. And it also needs to be clear mechanism for independent, anonymous and definitive advice. Which is free from repercussions or any detrimental action. In Operation Sandon, we found a combination of council staff raising concerns, internally to their managers and governance areas. Others went directly to the media, and some reported to the Victorian Ombudsman or IBAC. But others, such as councillors, did not report anything at all, despite having concerns about the conduct of their colleagues.
So why don't people report corruption? Our research shows that people generally don't report corruption, because they're worried about the impact of their reputation, or their career prospects. They're worried about being wrong.
They don't know how or where to report, and they don't understand the whistleblower protections. The important takeaways from this, is that there needs to be a well-communicated process within an organisation, for all employees and counsellors on how to report. That reporting system needs to be consistent. We need to build confidence in our staff and our organisations and to why, how, and to actually report. Even if you may be wrong. Ensure that the recipient of the report knows what to do. And also that they understand the confidentiality that (INAUDIBLE) attached to the reports that are being made. So who can report corruption? Well, anyone can report corruption. And you can make a complaint directly to IBAC. You can also make a complaint to your organisation.
Under, in Victoria, we have a piece of legislation, called the Public Interest Disclosure Act. This is a primary piece of legislation, that provides protection for people to raise concerns within an organisation. If someone makes a genuine public interest complaint, the confidentiality of that complaint can apply, including to their identity. We have a range of guidance on our website, and we offer training right across the public sector, and the community on these issues and the (INAUDIBLE) more generally. And for a short plug, we have a range of sessions coming up in October, and later this year on the Public interest disclosure scheme. As said out earlier CEO's, Governance teams and managers are the key staff, who are likely to receive a report of corrupt conduct or improper conduct. And deep understanding of the processes, and the thresholds of conduct which might be corrupt or at the very least, improper is incredibly important. While IBAC does receive a lot of complaints and notifications across our entire jurisdiction.
The one message we like to give organisations in particular local councils. That are making notifications to IBAC, is if you have an issue coming up and you report it to IBAC, stay in contact with us. Let us know if it needs to be prioritized. The assessment teams are always happy to prioritise and consider complaints, particularly those which are more serious. Thank you.
Thanks, Stacey. Again, some, providing some really important insights. And an important part of the picture in understanding the work that's done, or needs to be done in relation to integrity with local councils. So we've now come to the part of the forum where we can do Q and A. And we do have a little bit of time to consider the questions that have come in. So we've got a lot of expertise across the panel. So what I'll do, is I'll pitch a question at the person that I think might be best suited. But by all means I'd encourage you to share the answers where you see fit. So the first question relates to one of the key recommendations coming out of the Operation Sandon Report. How can we ensure that local planning decisions that are still the responsibility of councils, have greater integrity and transparency? And I'll throw to David, I think, in the first instance.
Right. Thanks, Stephen. Just before I answer that, as I was sitting here listening to Noelene speak. I was thinking that one of the consequences of being in the industry, where we sometimes look at a sector through a particular view. And it's great to have respected professionals from that sector speak, and it rebalances our thinking in some way. So thank you for your words, Noelene. In terms of the recommendation around planning. So some key elements to that. The first is that, we recommend that local planning decisions are still made at a local level by professionals within the council. And the rationale behind that is that, the planning framework is effectively a legal framework. Elected officials have a really strong role in the development of that framework. And that's through consultation and even debating the elements of it in a public space. But landing that framework is really important, and the community's voice in that is exceptionally important. But the application of that framework around particular proposals, is literally applying a legislative framework.
And that's where we see it's important that it's done by planning professionals. And those professionals can take into consideration, the relevant considerations in arriving at a decision. And it effectively removes local politics, which is not a relevant consideration out of the equation. I would think it would be really important for those decisions to have reasons recorded and for transparency, those planning decisions to be published and available, for the public to view. Councils and particularly council administration, have a role in governance and oversight of the application of that framework. So you'd expect a compliance regime, particularly around conflicts of interest, to make sure they're properly noted and recorded, and that the framework is being appropriately applied. And of course there would still remain a appeal mechanism for the administrative decision (INAUDIBLE). So if you think about all the things I've just worked through there, it should result in more consistent, legally robust and sound planning decisions being made by professionals within the planning framework, that is accepted and resolved by the Council for that area.
Thank you. Thanks, David. And the next one, I'm gonna kind of blend together a number of themes. And so we've had quite a lot of questions come in around the education of incoming councillors, and the mitigation of risk. But perhaps what I can do is I can connect that to another question. And that is around noting that from the time where IBAC became aware of the allegations surrounding Sandon, and when we delivered the report, there's a significant duration of time. So when a matter is reported to an integrity agency, what sorts of things can be done to prevent ongoing conduct? And so I kind of invite you to kind of consider those two elements to that. What can happen at the local government kind of level? What sorts of things should be occurring to support councillors and council staff, understand and protect? And the other part of that I guess is for IBAC to kind of talk about, what might we be doing, to ensure there are protections against ongoing conduct?
Yeah. Maybe we start chronologically. (CROSSTALK).
So obviously when a local council receives, you know, someone raises a concern or makes a complaint. I mean, I think, you know, a careful analysis of the issue, and identification, whether it does meet potential corrupt conduct. Or even the much lower threshold of improper conduct under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. Of course, one of the challenges, once it is reported to IBAC and we assess it. So we assess it under both pieces of legislation, we assess it whether it's a public interest disclosure, as well as whether it's corrupt conduct. But assuming it is a public interest disclosure, there could be confidentiality obligations that attach to it, which does present challenges. So as it works through the system, it can be really challenging. And we acknowledge that for a local council to deal with a complaint, that has very strict confidentiality attached to it. And that can be really difficult because, on one hand the conduct can be continuing, but on the other hand the complaint is being managed by IBAC or say, another organisation.
And grappling with the really strict confidentiality attached to it.
And so leading off on that (INAUDIBLE), the objectives of our investigations are to arrive at the truth of the matter. And as you can see in Operation Sandon, it took a number of years for us to gather all the information and arrive at those findings. There's complications in terms of confidentiality. There's complications in terms of the actions we take, and not wanting to compromise the collection of evidence, particularly untainted evidence. And there's also complications in terms of dealing with processes when we use our powers. There's time and considerations in the exercise of those. And of course, we've got the the issues when we're dealing with witnesses, or persons of interest as well in the course of the investigation. So a range of complications that add to time. And in that time frame does our investigation, it's generally confidential up to a point in time. But does our investigation prevent the conduct from continuing to occur? And the answer often is no, it doesn't. And that's where it gets really difficult for the people within the organisation, that have either reported it, or if they're aware of the investigation, trying to manage the organisation whilst that conduct is occurring.
At the local level. Obviously, you know, we're (INAUDIBLE) dealing with a hypothetical. But the rule of thumb for me would be to communicate as much information as you can within the confines of that confidentiality. So being as clear as you can about naming what's happening, saying as much as you are able to, without breaching confidentiality or revealing information is really key. And I think if you start with that premise as a communicator within the organisation, then people will believe you going forward that you're sharing as much information as you can. The other piece. Internally in organisations is obviously welfare issues. And so ensuring that there are appropriate avenues for people to have significant support if that's required. And these matters can impact dramatically on people and their lives, and their personal lives. So that access needs to be readily available, not just a phone number that people can ring. But frequently having people at the ready within organisations, within the organisation, when significant things are communicated.
I think they'd probably be Just quickly the two things, rule of thumb for me.
And I'd add that, whilst there's legislative requirements, there's policies, there's processes, there's ways of working in place. What we know is that no two investigations are the same. So you might see different levels of communication or interaction in one investigation, as opposed to what you might see in another. So I'd make the point that just because you may have had previous experience in the way it's worked, it might not be the same in the next one.
Thanks, David. And we're we're running low on time now, but I might just throw a last one in there. And this is just perhaps an opportunity to provide a brief comment based on operation Sandon, how robust (INAUDIBLE) resistance to compromises of integrity and ethical processes.
It's a very broad question. I'll focus on one element of I think the conflict of interest provisions. An area that is often discussed in local government, and it's been a complex area for many years. There were some reforms in 2020 which brought a new regime into place. Which is still bedding down, and there's probably some reforms to that legislative framework that can come into play. But I think the point I'll make is that no matter how good your conflict of interest framework is, if you've got parties that are completely unaware of the framework, either by design or lack of information available, then it's going to be ineffective. And then what we found in Operation Sandon is that, there's still people that are predisposed to improper conduct. Where no matter what regime you have in place, it's not gonna be effective.
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