“The test of people’s integrity comes, not through their successes, but when we are presented with failure, or challenge, or temptation.”
Commissioner Ann Vanstone QC joined IPAA SA in her first address to the broader public sector, in her role as Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, speaking to the topics of integrity and accountability and what this means for the public sector. With the Office for Public Integrity (OPI) and the ICAC now well established, expert staff of the OPI assess complaints and reports relating to allegations of corruption, misconduct or maladministration within South Australia’s public administration.
As highlighted by the Commissioner Only a fraction of the 1,200 plus complaints and reports that the OPI receives each year become the subject of an ICAC investigation, with many matters referred back to agencies for internal investigation. The core focus of the ICAC is addressing corruption. Commissioner Vanstone shares the need to dispel some of the misrepresentation and mystery around the purpose and functions of the ICAC
As described by the Commissioner, the ICAC serves multiple purposes, and highlights that for public servants, the ICAC is “your partner and not your enemy”. As well as addressing and investigating corruption the ICAC is a vital body in helping improve integrity culture across the sector. As noted by the Commissioner “we are not here to catch people for mistakes or minor transgressions… we are only interested when integrity failings are so grave that criminal conduct is occurring or may occur”.
The ICAC performs an essential role in protecting the culture of integrity for all public officers and as summarised by Commissioner Vanstone “you are here to report corruption and I am here to deal with it”.
“It’s the unsung acts of everyday reliability, credibility and account that imbue public administration with the integrity it needs.”
Commissioner Vanstone notes that we are all faced with challenges that will test our integrity and accountability. For anyone entrusted with public office and working for the public interest, effort must be made to act continuously and reliably in the best public interest. The ICAC plays a role in educating public officers on how to act with integrity, as well as in preventing corruption.
As part of this event audience members were invited to submit their questions to Commissioner Vanstone. The Q&A portion was led by Chief Executive, Attorney-General’s Department, Caroline Mealor, who along with exploring some of her own questions for the Commissioner, delivered the questions of public sector employees from across the sector.
Questions from Chief Executive, Attorney-General’s Department, Caroline Mealor
What attracted you to this role? (time 36:30 mins)
You hand over a brief to the DPP to prosecute… how does it feeling not being in control of the prosecution? (time 37:20 mins)
Since starting have you enjoyed your role? (time 38:00 mins)
Has anything particularly surprised you in the role of office since you began? (time 39:10 min)
Do you think your term in ICAC will be different from your predecessor? (time 40:00 mins)
There has been criticism that ICAC has spent too much time looking at misconduct and maladministration rather corruption. How do you respond to that? (time 42:00 mins)
Do you think that the media has a role in assisting you carrying out your function and promoting the good work that you do? (time 44:45 mins)
Do you think the ICAC Act makes the ICAC too secret? (time 45:00 mins)
Have you been in the role long enough to give us any observations about the level of integrity that exists in the South Australian public service? (time 47:23 mins)
Can you comment on the willingness and capability of leaders in the public service to address misconduct and maladministration? (time 48:20 mins)
Your office relies on public officers making reports. How would you encourage public officers to report knowing that research reports that people are pretty fearful of doing so? (time 49:10 mins)
What do you do with the intelligence you gather from complaints? What benefit for you is there in understanding the whole picture? (time 1:02:06 mins)
Can you see a time where an agency might come to you and say “help” could you evaluate us? (time 53:00 mins)
Some of the investigations you run in conjunction with SAPOL. Could you explain that a bit further and do you think that works? (time 1:04:46 mins)
You mentioned in your address the idea of ICAC being in partnership with public administration. How do you make the cultural shift towards partnership? (time 1:09:30 mins)
Questions from the Audience
Are you planning any reviews of the Act? (time 50:44 mins)
Treasurer’s Instruction 28, which deals which financial management compliance program… What would you like to see come out of this review to achieve better outcomes? (time 51:50 mins)
Do you think an agencies internal audit and risk team has an important role in upholding integrity and accountability? (time 52:30 mins)
What things can internal audit do better to strengthen organisational internal controls and strengthen management risk culture? (time 54:10 mins)
Why are so many investigations referred back to agencies who “don’t have the resources and skills to properly undertake them”? (time 54:54 mins)
Do you have any view of Australia’s declining ranking on the International Corruption Perception Index, especially in comparison to our New Zealand neighbor’s? (time 57:48 mins)
Do you think that most public servants understand their reporting obligations under the Act? (time 58:42 mins)
Are you considering a review of the threshold for the obligation on agencies to report misconduct or maladministration? (time 1:00:03 mins)
You have said you are likely to deal with maladministration matters, are they likely to be referred to the ombudsman or somebody else? (time 1:00:53 mins)
What is the difference between your role and the role of the ombudsman? (time 1:01:13 mins)
What are the qualifications or experience you are looking for in your investigators and could you recommend to somebody who is considering [job] change? (time 1:03:20 mins)
You mentioned earlier weaknesses you see in the ICAC Act, could you elaborate on those weaknesses? (time 1:05:35 mins)
Do you have any contact or are you getting any lessons learnt from interstate ICAC’s or the IBAC? (time 1:07:19 mins)
What is the relationship between your office and the OCPSE? Do you work with Commissioner Ranieri to develop guidance for the public sector? (time 1:08:10 mins)
What can be done by public sector employees to encourage reporting to ICAC? (time 1:08:45 mins)
What is your advice for assisting public officers to ensure that the same test of accountability and integrity is applied to all levels of staff? (time 1:12:00 mins)
Public officers are afraid of reporting corruption as they fear being victimised, and people are still afraid of coming forward. Do you have any comments about that? (time 1:13:00 mins)
As Commissioner Vanstone highlighted during this event, her ability to investigate corruption arrives from public officers coming forward and reporting. If you would like some further information on your reporting obligations, how to make a report or to ask any further questions the below resources may be helpful to you.