Welcome to the December issue of IBAC Insights and the final edition for 2021.
Today, 9 December, is International Anti-corruption Day and it is a significant day in the IBAC calendar. This year's theme is 'Your right, your role: Say no to corruption'. Today, IBAC hosted a webinar for Victorian state and local government staff reflecting on the learnings and insights from the past 12 months and enduring risks to manage in the future.
On this important day it is fitting that we reflect on the past 12 months and look back on the substantial amount of work that has been done to prevent and expose public sector corruption and police misconduct in Victoria.
2021 saw IBAC undertake several major investigations into allegations of serious public sector corruption, including Operation Esperance and Operation Watts.
Public hearings for Operation Watts were held in October and November 2021 into allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including Members of Parliament. Operation Watts is a coordinated investigation between IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman and is looking into a range of matters including allegations of 'branch stacking' aired in media reports in 2020.
Public hearings are a powerful and important tool to expose corruption and misconduct, providing Victorians with transparency and accountability when it comes to IBAC's role and the conduct of their public sector and police. They also play a key preventative role by raising awareness of corruption and misconduct risks and how they can be mitigated. The public hearings for Operation Watts generated unprecedented media and community interest with almost 280,000 people viewing the public video stream; a great result for our preventative function.
While the public hearings have concluded for 2021, Operation Watts is an ongoing investigation. Anyone with credible information relevant to the investigation is encouraged to report it at www.ibac.vic.gov.au/report or phone 1300 735 135.
A year in police oversight
IBAC's police oversight role is a significant part of our jurisdiction, and includes investigations, reviews of completed police investigations into police misconduct, recommendations for significant policy and practice change, and overseeing police compliance with a range of legislation.
Since January 2021, our police oversight work has included:
- receiving 1537 complaints and 15 notifications
- receiving 169 public interest disclosure notifications and three public interest disclosures
- commencing 12 investigations and preliminary inquiries
- finalising 5 police investigations and preliminary inquiries
- progressing 12 police investigations and preliminary inquiries.
In addition to our assessment and investigative work, we review internal police investigations to ensure they are thorough and impartial. Since January 2021, IBAC commenced 159 reviews of police investigations and finalised 108 reviews. IBAC's reviews allow us to consider Victoria Police's systems for handling complaints. We look at whether investigation outcomes were appropriate and if the process was even-handed. Following a review, we work with Victoria Police to drive procedural and system improvements and to provide input into the development of key police policies to reduce police misconduct. Ultimately, our reviews result in actions to improve the outcomes for victims and complainants.
Our task to inform and educate both the community and the police about IBAC's role to encourage the reporting of police misconduct and advising on ways that police misconduct can be prevented is also considerable.
IBAC publishes a range of information, conducts research and strategic intelligence projects to examine systemic issues and risks, and recommend actions to strengthen police policies, systems, and practices. This year IBAC delivered a special report on our Operation Turon investigation, which highlighted corruption and police misconduct risks associated with inappropriate social media use and online commentary by a senior police officer. In addition to this, we delivered over 40 education and training sessions to Victoria Police officers and employees, engaging with various levels of police, including recruits, detectives, and senior leadership on the importance of integrity and preventing misconduct and corruption.
The Government's review into Victoria's police oversight system
We welcome the release last Friday of the Government's consultation paper for the review of Victoria’s police oversight system. We have engaged closely with Government since the 2018 IBAC Committee Report about the opportunities and challenges facing police oversight in Victoria.
We are proud of our police oversight work, but more needs to be done. As we have informed the Government, and said publicly many times, we cannot increase our oversight activities without additional funding and legislative change. Put simply, we cannot do more without more.
While IBAC has received some additional funding in recent budget cycles, it is not ongoing or commensurate with the growth in police numbers. The lack of powers and resources significantly impacts IBAC's ability to investigate some of the serious police misconduct complaints referred to us, as a result we must be extremely selective in what we investigate.
The Government's review also aims to improve the system of complaints about police misconduct, placing a stronger focus on the needs of complainants and victims of police misconduct. At IBAC we recognise the challenges faced by people making a complaint about suspected corruption or police misconduct, and over recent years IBAC has made important changes to our complaints handling to ensure we better focus on the complainant experience.
We will continue to engage with Government and stakeholders on this important review to ensure Victoria has a robust, transparent police oversight system. One that is driven by best practices, meets the needs of Victoria’s diverse communities and maintains the highest standards of integrity and public trust in the police force.
Don't become the headline
In October, I joined with Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass and Victorian Auditor-General Andrew Greaves for a joint webinar where we discussed the best practices in public sector procurement. The forum was attended by over 700 people. The interest in this event shows how important this topic is to the public sector and it was a great example of collaboration across fellow integrity bodies – something I am looking forward to doing more of in 2022.
Features in this edition
This edition of IBAC Insights features a piece on mandatory notifications - the legal obligation for principal officers to notify IBAC of suspected corrupt conduct - and what defines this corrupt conduct.
You can also listen to our latest podcast with forensic and financial crime expert Dean Newlan and our Executive Director of Operations, Peter Morris, discussing Australia’s Fraud and Control Standard (AS 8001) and its implications for corruption prevention.
Protecting people who make disclosures about improper conduct in the public sector is critical for an effective integrity and anti-corruption system. Our Public Interest Disclosures (PID) interactive flow chart demonstrates how public interest disclosures are received and assessed by IBAC.
You will also read a piece from Victorian Public Sector Commissioner Adam Fennessy PSM on how the Victorian Public Sector upholds responsible government.
Thank you to all our contributors for this edition of IBAC Insights.
Looking ahead to 2022
In the previous issue of IBAC Insights, I mentioned development was underway for our new strategic plan. The publication of The IBAC Plan 2021-25 is the culmination of a comprehensive consultation and engagement process and provides a clear vision and strategic framework for achieving IBAC's vision of a public sector and police that acts with integrity for all Victorians.
The IBAC Plan outlines our four strategic pillars and the key areas of IBAC's work over the next four years. In turn, this will ensure a strategic, consistent and structured approach to investigating and exposing corruption and misconduct in the public sector. For more information on the IBAC Plan and our Annual Plan which incorporates the strategic focus areas for the year, I encourage you to read our CEO's article.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of IBAC's employees, Deputy Commissioners and broader leadership team who have contributed to the significant work completed this year.
And I thank our stakeholders across the public sector, Victoria Police and the community for their cooperation and support during the year.
The next 12 months at IBAC, and the last year of my five-year tenure as Commissioner, will see a number of significant reports and investigations concluding. What they will do is demonstrate that the true value of an anti-corruption commission is not about merely identifying serious misconduct, but also highlighting the institutional failings and the environment in which misconduct occurs - most importantly they will focus on ways to prevent corruption and misconduct from occurring.
On behalf of everyone at IBAC, I wish our IBAC Insights readers a safe and happy festive season, and best wishes for 2022.
The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC
Read more in IBAC Insights Issue 30.