Lifting the veil on misconduct in public organisations

Date posted:
I don’t think the public sector should pay for funerals.

- A senior staff member on learning their public organisation spent over $30,000 on funeral expenses for employees who died in circumstances unrelated to their work.

Investigating allegations of misconduct is a significant and crucial part of the Victorian Ombudsman's work, but many cases are never publicly reported, including to safeguard individuals' wellbeing.

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass’s report, Misconduct in public organisations: A casebook, tabled today, sheds some light on her investigations into misconduct within the public sector. The report delves into seven case studies, discussing individuals engaging in misconduct and systems failing to manage misconduct risks.

This report educates and informs public organisations and the Victorian community about the risks associated with misconduct while sharing instructive guidance on how to mitigate those risks.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass emphasised the importance of this report, stating, "Its themes are, sadly, not new. Conflicts of interest, favouritism, and misuse of public funds continue to feature, as they have in previous Ombudsman reports. But the stories are different, and each holds valuable lessons from which others can learn."

"Sometimes people do the wrong thing and go to great lengths to conceal it, such as the manager who took over 40 days of paid leave without submitting a leave request, even going so far as to feign attendance at an off-site meeting.

“In other cases, individuals simply fail to recognise their own misconduct. Conflicts of interest, in particular, remain poorly understood by many people in public roles. Public funds may be misused due to opportunistic behaviour exploiting an organisation's weak financial controls or an organisational culture that allows poor conduct to persist unchecked." Ms Glass said.

Misconduct, by its very nature, erodes public trust in publicly funded organisations. "Public trust – striving to earn and sustain it – is a vital challenge for the public sector." added Ms Glass.

While the potential for people to engage in wrongful acts will always exist, this report equips organisations with practical strategies to minimise misconduct and preserve or rebuild public trust.

Full report available here.