This is a summary report of an assessment undertaken by the Integrity Commission arising from a complaint received in November 2018. The complaint made allegations of misconduct relating to a personal relationship that developed between the Hon Sarah Courtney MP (as then Minister for Primary Industries and Water, and Minister for Racing) and the Secretary of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Dr John Whittington.
An assessment is a fact finding exercise to better understand a complaint and to determine whether it ought to be investigated by the Commission or, in some instances, whether it is better dealt with by another organisation. An assessor may exercise the powers of an investigator to obtain information to help us make this decision, however will usually rely upon information that is provided by a relevant public department, or that is otherwise publicly available.
On completion of an assessment, the assessor is required to prepare and forward a report to the Commission’s Chief Executive Officer in accordance with section 37(1) of the Integrity Commission Act 2009 (‘the IC Act’). The report is to contain a recommendation that the complaint:
- be dismissed or not accepted
- be referred (to a relevant person or agency) for investigation and action, or
- be investigated by the Commission.
In making the recommendation the assessor may consider any or all of the following:
- the principles of operation of the Commission specified in s 9 of the IC Act
- the nature and seriousness of the alleged misconduct if it were to be proven
- the capacity of any relevant public authority to investigate the complain
- whether it is in the public interest, or is likely to increase public confidence, for the Commission to investigate the complaint, and
- any other matters the assessor considers relevant.
In this instance, the assessor’s recommendation was that the matter be dismissed and this was ultimately the determination of the Chief Executive Officer, in accordance with s 38(1)(a) of the IC Act.
The Board of the Commission subsequently determined that it is in the public interest that a summary of the report be tabled in both Houses of Parliament, in accordance with s 11(3) of the IC Act.
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