Integrity Commission

Integrity Matters - Issue 7

From the Chief Executive Officer

Richard Bingham

Welcome to this edition of Integrity Matters.

I’m particularly excited about the forthcoming launch of our Guide to Managing Misconduct in the Tasmanian Public Sector. It is the culmination of a lot of work with our partner agencies to produce a resource which will I hope will be of great benefit to all of us.

Also, our Board has considered the Commission’s public profile, and you’ll find in this edition some information about a new initiative involving the publishing of updates on our assessment and investigations.

I hope you enjoy reading this edition. Feel free to give us a call if you’d like to discuss any training needs or ethical matters.

Richard Bingham, Chief Executive Officer

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Investigation findings result in Tasmanian first

The Integrity Commission has developed Tasmania’s first comprehensive resource to support improved public sector management of misconduct across the board.

The resource has been developed as a response to outcomes of the Commission’s two-year own motion investigation into misconduct management in State and local government sectors.

The Guide to Managing Misconduct in the Tasmanian Public Sector and the report arising from the investigation will be released at a Hobart event at 1pm on 6 December, at the Salamanca Inn.

“The release of investigation findings – both the strengths of the public sector and its shortcomings in managing misconduct – and the associated resources represent an important milestone for Tasmanian public sector organisations,” Commission CEO, Richard Bingham, says.

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Working with Tasmania Police results in a successful prosecution

Tasmania Police logo

While the Commission’s mandate is to deal with allegations of misconduct, we often receive complaints about behaviour or actions that could amount to criminal conduct. In such situations, we work closely with Tasmania Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that the allegations are reviewed and taken through the criminal justice system as required.

As highlighted in our recent Annual Report, the Commission liaised with Tasmania Police on eight matters in 2016–17. We do this where we suspect that a crime may have occurred, and require police advice as to whether the matter should be criminally investigated. This resulted in two matters being formally referred to Tasmania Police for investigation in that year.

One recent example highlights the benefit of our liaison and referral of matters to Tasmania Police, and resulted in a successful prosecution. In this matter, the Commission received a complaint alleging that a public officer (a local government employee) had authorised payment of fraudulently issued invoices. The complainant alleged that the invoices were for work which had not been undertaken, and also for work undertaken (and previously paid for by the council) by another contractor.

The Commission assessed the complaint, verifying that the invoices related to council works and to better understand the relationships between the parties who were alleged to be undertaking the fraudulent behaviour. On the basis of the complaint, the total of the alleged false invoices submitted by the contracting company which stood to benefit was estimated to be $73,529.50.

The material was provided to Tasmania Police for initial review, with police advising that the matter warranted criminal investigation. The Commission then finalised the assessment and formally referred the matter to Tasmania Police under s 38(1)(e) of the Integrity Commission Act.

The Commissioner of Police subsequently advised the Commission that the alleged offender was interviewed by Police and formally charged with three counts of stealing goods to the value of approximately $4100. The person had denied the allegations made in the original complaint and it was found that the record keeping of the council was so inadequate that the more serious allegations were not possible to prove, particularly as it appeared that contractors may have performed some of the work paid for by the council.

The person pleaded guilty to the charges and received a global sentence of one month imprisonment (wholly suspended on the condition that he not commit another offence punishable by imprisonment for 12 months), and Court costs. The person was dismissed by the council; however police noted that he had repaid the equivalent value of the theft, plus other associated costs.

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The release of operational information: a revised approach

The Commission is now publishing the status of complaints that have been assessed or investigated on our website. The list of updates provide the allegation central to each complaint and whether the matter is active, has been referred or, dismissed after assessment or investigation.

While we conduct a thorough review of all complaints in an initial triage process, the list does not include matters that are not retained by the Commission after triage.

The list will be updated every two months and provides an insight into the broad scope of the Commission’s operational work. This commitment to transparency is complemented by further information on our assessment and investigation processes published on our website.

As a general rule, the Commission does not comment on operational matters. This ensures a consistent response to all matters. Three reasons why organisations like ours do not generally confirm or deny what they are working on are:

  • the privacy and reputations of people who are complained about need to be respected;
  • if we are conducting an investigation, confirming this fact publicly may prejudice our ability to successfully complete it. People may destroy or manufacture evidence or be influenced by others; and
  • lodging a complaint can be a deliberate smear tactic. We do not agree with these tactics, and we don’t want to encourage them by confirming that we are investigating.

However, we may comment on matters that have been discussed by others on the public record – for example, where the facts have been misrepresented. Public comment will be made only if:

  • the matter is already in the public domain, and the parties identified;
  • the Commission’s dealings (i.e. triage, assessment or investigation) are complete or where the dealings are not complete, the matter has been publicly misrepresented or misreported;
  • no public report by the Commission is contemplated;
  • a public statement will not prejudice our or another agency’s ability to successfully finalise the matter; or
  • the privacy and reputations of people who are complained about will not be unfairly damaged.

If we decide to investigate a complaint, we may publish a report when the investigation is complete if we believe it is in the public interest to do so. We also publish statistics about complaints and outcomes. When we have completed an investigation into a complaint that has been discussed publicly, the subject of the complaint will be advised of the result.

This commitment to transparency achieves the Commission’s objective to enhance public confidence that misconduct by public officers will be appropriately dealt with.

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Conflict of Interest in recruitment

Complaints about conflicts of interest continue to be received by the Commission. This month the Tasmanian Auditor General released a report which found opportunities to better manage the risks associated with conflicts of interest in the recruitment practices of some public sector agencies

Although the audit concluded the practices followed generally complied with the mandatory requirements, Mr Whitehead stated he was concerned “conflicts of interest were not reported or managed by the selection panel for three of the eight positions examined and documentation supporting the shortlisting and interview process, the conduct of referee checks and the ultimate selection decision was, in some cases, not adequate”.

Importantly, the report highlights that greater transparency in public sector recruitment for senior positions is needed. The report examined the creation and classification of positions, recruitment and selection processes, appointment of successful candidates and the cost of filling vacant positions.

The complete Report can be downloaded from the Tasmanian Audit Office website. The Commission gets calls from public officers about a broad range of scenarios that could amount to a conflict of interest and we’re happy to discuss these situations and, in some cases provide more detailed confidential advice under s8(1)(d) of the Integrity Commission Act 2009.

Please contact us on 1300 720 289 if you have any queries about conflicts of interest or visit our website to access support materials.

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Creating a culture where it’s safe to speak up: Devonport City Council

Devonport City Council logo

Devonport City Council periodically conducts an organisational health survey. In 2014 this survey was modified to include questions related to fraud awareness. Results of the 2014 survey highlighted that only 47% of staff felt confident that council would support them if they were to report suspected fraudulent activity. This result became the trigger for Council to develop a dedicated awareness-building and training program based on the Integrity Commission's Speak Up Campaign. The aim of the program was to educate employees and to develop improved procedures.

Council customised the Commission’s Ethical Decisions at Work module, and Council staff facilitated workshops with their outdoor workforce. The Use of Work Resources module was then delivered to all employees, in addition to bullying and harassment training held every two years. Council’s Fraud Awareness Plan and Code of Conduct were also updated and rolled out to all employees. In addition, Elected Members received refresher training.

Following the actions above, and other related promotional activities, Council’s 2016 survey showed a positive improvement in all questions regarding integrity and fraud prevention. The survey showed:

  • a 26.56% improvement in employees indicating they feel safe when raising personal grievances, concerns or issues
  • a 17.76% improvement to the question “If I saw misconduct of other staff I would feel safe reporting it”

Devonport City Council now run regular articles in the staff newsletter to promote the importance of raising any personal grievances and suspected fraudulent activities.

The work undertaken by Devonport City Council is an excellent example of how to create a culture where it’s safe to speak up. Devonport City Council achieved this by actively encouraging staff to raise matters of concern, ensuring that the appropriate supports and procedures were in place and that training was targeted to meet areas of need. This holistic approach helps to create a listening culture where employees can feel confident raising issues. This benefits everyone – employees, the organisation and the community as a whole.

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New fact sheet: the Public Interest

All public officers have an obligation to act in the public interest. But what does ‘acting in the public interest’ mean and how do public officers ensure that they are serving the public interest? The Integrity Commission has a new fact sheet, adapted from work undertaken by the NSW Ombudsman, to answer these questions.

The Public Interest fact sheet is available on our website.

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The content of this newsletter is the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer of the Integrity Commission, Richard Bingham.