Welcome to the first edition of IBAC Insights for 2020. As I write, Victoria is operating in a state of emergency declared by our Premier in response to the coronavirus pandemic. IBAC is following the advice of the government experts to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, public sector stakeholders and the community.
While most of IBAC’s staff are now working remotely, our independent oversight of Victoria Police and the public sector continues within the parameters of public health safety precautions. We continue to take complaints and notifications of alleged public sector corruption and police misconduct. We will advise our stakeholders on any changes as the need arises.
The impact of this pandemic on Victorians, and particularly for those in our community trying to recover from the devastating summer bushfires, is very concerning. Our state has been beset by two major crisis in a relatively short space of time, with millions of Victorians affected. In an ongoing climate of emergency response and recovery, and with a need to respond quickly and under pressure, IBAC has an important role to play in supporting our hard working public sector. One way we do this is by providing information on corruption prevention. This ensures public sector employees are supported to make decisions on how resources are allocated that are in the best interest of the public. I encourage readers to visit our website and view our corruption prevention resources, and to check the site for updates on our operations.
Two weeks ago, I took the decision to suspend the Operation Sandon public hearings until further notice as a precautionary measure in consideration of public health. IBAC will make a public announcement when it is appropriate to recommence the hearings, at which point we will examine the remaining witnesses. This includes hearing from a number of expert witnesses with specialist knowledge in Victoria's planning system, donations, lobbying and decision maker’s governance.
The Operation Sandon hearings are an examination of the adequacy of Victoria's systems and controls for safeguarding the integrity of the state's planning processes. As part of our prevention focus, the reopened public hearings will concentrates on strategic issues and systemic corruption vulnerabilities identified through the investigation. I am pleased that public streaming of these hearings has been well received with thousands of citizens accessing the stream and transcripts via our website.
New changes to public interest disclosures legislation
An important role of Victoria's integrity system is to make it safe for anyone to report suspected corruption or misconduct in the public sector. Changes to public interest disclosure legislation came into effect in January. The changes provide additional safeguards for people who make genuine disclosures about improper conduct, including keeping their identity confidential, and protects them from bullying, harassment or legal action.
When someone becomes aware of corrupt behaviour they may be tempted to turn a blind eye, whether for fear of reprisal, to protect the reputation of a colleague or organisation, or simply to avoid drawing attention to themselves. This creates a veil of secrecy under which corruption can hide and thrive. Changes to the public interest disclosure legislation aim to help organisations detect and root out corruption and misconduct and foster 'speak up' cultures.
Public sector agencies are being supported by IBAC to implement the new public interest disclosure requirements. Further information may be found on IBAC's website.
New faces in our leadership team
In January, IBAC welcomed our new CEO, Marlo Baragwanath, and Deputy Commissioner David Wolf, both profiled in this issue. Ms Baragwanath and Mr Wolf provide a breadth of leadership experience to IBAC and are building on the legacy of previous executives, while also bringing fresh ideas and energy.
IBAC Deputy Commissioner Katie Miller gives food for thought in her feature on how anti-corruption commissions are a potential last line of defence before a royal commission on government corruption. Ms Miller’s experience with royal commissions – the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission held after the devastating Black Saturday bushfires, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse – gives her added insight. She argues that by focusing on prevention, integrity agencies can help change the cultures within organisations enabling corruption.
Of the thousands of allegations IBAC receives each year, only a select number are investigated. Decisions that determine if a complaint allegation meets IBAC’s threshold start with our Assessment & Review team, often the public’s first point of contact with IBAC. This team collates and assesses complaints and notifications; last financial year alone, they assessed 5812 individual allegations of public sector corruption and police misconduct contained in approximately 2500 complaints and notifications sent to IBAC. In this issue, Assessment & Review Team Leader Joseph Hall sheds light on how IBAC assesses complaints and notifications and determines which allegations to investigate.
The Honourable Robert Redlich QC
Read more in IBAC Insights Issue 23.