Victorian public sector must screen out corruption risks

 
Inadequate recruitment practices and information sharing continue to be major misconduct and corruption risks to Victoria’s public sector, warn the heads of two key Victorian integrity agencies.
 
The state’s anti-corruption Commissioner and the Victorian Ombudsman have together urged the public sector to strengthen recruitment processes, including pre-employment screening and information sharing between agencies, to prevent other agencies re-hiring employees with problematic discipline, complaint or criminal histories.
 
“Recycling of employees with histories of improper conduct from one public sector agency to another, including former members of Victoria Police, continues to be a particular problem,” IBAC Commissioner Stephen O’Bryan QC said.
 
“Public sector employees accused of misconduct or corruption often resign before an investigation concludes, avoiding disciplinary action. Unless specific probity checking arrangements exist between agencies, these problematic staff are re-employed elsewhere in the public sector with a clean record and can continue their ways.”
 
Unlike in some other jurisdictions, current Victorian public sector recruitment practices generally don’t require candidates to disclose their discipline records to a prospective employer.
 
In 2013 the Victorian Ombudsman reported on key concerns in public sector employment arising from more than 60 investigations, including:
  • inadequate pre-employment screening
  • appointments compromised by nepotism, favouritism and conflicts of interest
  • recycling of officers with histories of questionable conduct or performance.
 
“We continue to see risks to the public sector, in particular from conflicts of interest, and cases where officials leave their role while subject to investigation, with no obligation to disclose this fact.”
 
“Integrity is one of the core public sector values. The recruitment process is a key stage in ensuring the highest levels of probity, which should serve to keep out those who do not act in the public interest,” Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said.
 
The Victorian Public Sector Commission this year issued a new Integrity in recruitment guidance note, suggesting ways public sector agencies could strengthen their recruitment processes to mitigate risks.
 
However, complaints and investigations handled by IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman continue to highlight issues in public sector recruitment.
 
IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman are urging public sector agencies to take action to strengthen probity in their recruitment practices. Steps that could be considered to prevent the recycling of problematic employees between agencies may include:
  • requiring prospective public sector employees to complete a statutory declaration in relation to prior work history, including whether they have ever been the subject of an investigation for a criminal or disciplinary matter
  • requiring candidates to sign a waiver allowing employers to check up on prior discipline history across the public sector
  • improved communication and information sharing between agencies. 
 
“Agencies should take a risk-based approach in adopting such measures to strengthen integrity in public sector recruitment, based on a solid understanding of the corruption and misconduct risks faced by their agency, as well as the risks associated with particular positions,” Mr O’Bryan said.
 
“While concerns may be raised about the application of privacy principles, provided a prospective public sector employee consents to providing information about their employment history and to that information being shared between agencies, there is no breach of privacy legislation.”
 
Public sector employees make up around 10 per cent of Victoria’s workforce and provide vital services including education, transport, police and emergency services, health and human services. Many of these employees hold positions of trust, with responsibility for sensitive information and decision making processes, and with access to vulnerable people in the community.
 
Media contacts
IBAC
0427 480 840 or media@ibac.vic.gov.au
 
Victorian Ombudsman
 
Case studies
Following a complaint, an investigator resigned from his public sector job. He later appeared in court on charges of theft, unrelated to his employment. The matter was found proven and he was ordered to pay restitution in the thousands of dollars. The man was then employed by an inner Melbourne council. Some years later, he was arrested and charged by police with several counts of bribery. He was found to have tipped off individuals involved in running illegal brothels about impending compliance inspections or police raids in exchange for money. The man received more than $130,000 in bribes over 10 years. He was sentenced to three years and two months imprisonment.
 
A long-term regulatory officer with access to firearms was found to have numerous criminal convictions, including for rape and firearm offences. An Ombudsman’s investigation – initiated over potential conflicts of interest – found that at no time during the officer’s employment had the agency performed a criminal records check or required the officer to disclose any past convictions.