From complaint to investigation - an insider's look into how we determine investigations

Joseph Hall

By Joseph Hall, Team Leader, Assessment & Review, IBAC

I started work in the Assessment & Review team during IBAC’s first year of operation in 2013. Over the past seven years, I’ve seen the organisation mature and take on increasing numbers of investigations.

One way to view the Assessment & Review team is as gatekeepers of information. Every day we receive complaints and notifications and our job is to assess these and make recommendations to IBAC’s deputy commissioners, who make the final call on what happens next – more on this below.

There is a common expectation that IBAC will, or at least should, investigate every complaint it receives, but this is not possible. Under the IBAC Act, we operate on a legal definition of corrupt conduct and police misconduct which forms the basis of what we can and cannot investigate. And we have a legislative obligation to prioritise investigations into matters of serious and systemic corrupt conduct.

So, how do we decide what’s serious enough to recommend an investigation?

The first step is to assess the information. We look at the allegations, who is involved, and attempt to construct a chronology of events. Most complaints list a number of allegations and we assess each one individually. We look for specific information: dates, times, names of people and evidence to corroborate allegations – all this helps us determine what do with a complaint. Where possible, we reach out to the person providing the information for further detail, as well as check IBAC’s own intelligence holdings.

We assess each allegation against the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities to see whether there are any human rights involved, such as the right to privacy or reputation, or right to liberty and security. We also look at whether a complaint or notification can be considered a public interest disclosure; essentially, whether the information qualifies for whistleblower protections.

A lot of quality information provided to IBAC comes from people who make public interest disclosures. These people, sometimes known as whistleblowers, usually work inside an organisation and have direct knowledge of corrupt conduct or improper practices.

If we consider the information provided to be a public interest disclosure, the person who provided the information is entitled to protections, which we recommend. This is to ensure their identity remains confidential throughout any investigation and that they are protected from reprisals (such as getting fired) in response to their disclosure.

At the end of our assessment, we make one of three main recommendations; to dismiss, to refer, or to investigate. We might dismiss a complaint for a number of reasons, such as another agency has already addressed it, or the information provided isn’t enough to demonstrate corrupt conduct or police misconduct, or is based on speculation.

If we refer a matter, it’s because it falls within the remit of another agency and is more appropriately handled by that body. We may flag such cases for review, meaning that IBAC will review the agency’s investigation of the matter at its conclusion. This review function is an important part of our work as it helps build public sector and police capability to conduct better internal investigations, resulting in stronger, fairer organisational cultures resistant to corruption.

When we recommend a matter for investigation, it’s because we’ve determined the information meets our investigation threshold – there is reasonable evidence of corrupt conduct or police misconduct – and it involves indictable offences.

While most of the complaints/notifications we receive do not lead to an IBAC investigation the information doesn’t go to waste as we keep it to inform future or other investigations. All information given to IBAC provides intelligence which we use to identify trends and patterns in corruption and misconduct.

This intelligence also helps inform our prevention activities, strategic priorities, to identify serious and systemic issues for possible ‘own motion’ investigations, and to assess future complaints and notifications.

More information on our complaints process is available on our website.