Megan Latham, Commissioner, Independent Commission Against Corruption, New South Wales.
In addition to investigating and exposing corruption, the principal functions of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption are to prevent corruption and educate people about the detrimental effects of corruption. These functions are set out in the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988.
On a practical level, this means examining the laws, practices and procedures of public authorities and public officials, educating, advising and assisting public authorities and the community on ways corrupt conduct may be minimised, and enlisting and fostering public support in combating corrupt conduct.
The anti-corruption strategy of the state is better viewed as building community and sector resistance to corruption through the interrelated elements of deterrence, education and assistance.
The ICAC has been busy carrying out these activities since it began its operations in 1989.
In the past year alone, for example, the ICAC has made more than 100 anti-corruption presentations at public sector and community events. It has also delivered some 85 face-to-face training seminars across public sector and local government to more than 4,500 people. This training ranges from five-day senior executive programs and half-day workshops to community breakfasts across the state.
The ICAC also provides an advice service whereby public officials can contact us to request advice on their practices, procedures and anti-corruption measures. Through this service, the ICAC provided advice on more than 130 occasions over the past year. We encourage public officials to use this service by calling us on 02 8281 5999.
An important part of the work of the ICAC is to conduct analyses of significant areas of corruption risk in the public sector.
Reports are published and distributed across the sector that aim to assist managers to find the best way to prevent corruption without damaging the efficient and effective conduct of their core business.
In recent times, these reports have covered risks in accounts payable, planning, IT contracting, procurement, international student operations in universities, and the funding of non-government organisations to deliver human services. All are available on the ICAC website at www.icac.nsw.gov.au
Federal corruption watchdog elementary for Watson SC
The silk who made his name as Senior Counsel Assisting the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Geoffrey Watson SC, has renewed public calls from the legal fraternity for the establishment of a so-called federal ICAC, arguing that Canberra is far from immune to corruption.
Mr Watson made the call during speech for the Cranlana Programme 2015 Alumni Speaker Series, questioning whether Australians are “willing to accept corruption as just part of the price of doing business in Australia?”
“I call upon our government in Canberra to create a strong and independent federal anti-corruption commission,” Mr Watson said.
“I concede that such a call made by a person such as me is weak, but I am not alone. Others who have made a similar call include some of the most respected judges, politicians, law reformers and crime fighters in our country.”
Noting that “the prospects of a federal ICAC in the foreseeable future are rising”, Mr Watson said the federal government should “commit to the establishment of a comprehensive independent integrity system for the whole of the Commonwealth, incorporating a general purpose federal anti-corruption agency.”
His plea follows similar calls by former NSW ICAC Commissioner David Ipp upon stepping down from his role.
However Mr Watson cautioned that any such federal organisation needed sufficient powers and must operate out in the open rather than being bound by secrecy provisions such as those in South Australia.
“If you are going to set up a federal anti-corruption commission, but you wish the commission to conduct its investigations and inquiries in secret, then don’t bother,” Mr Watson said.
The eminent silk also lambasted the idea that there was no need for a federal anti-corruption role, quipping that it would make the national capital the only place in Australia and indeed the world to be corruption free.
Lack of political courage from the major parties also came in for a lashing with Mr Watson characterising the national debate on corruption as somewhere between “thoughtful consideration to party-political blockheadedness.”
Any idea that there is insufficient money for the proposed new function was given similarly short swift.
“If we can afford to have a federal windfarm commissioner, then surely we could also look at getting a federal anti-corruption commissioner,” Mr Watson said.
To read Mr Watson’s speech go to: http://ab.co/1LiDLMM
Fresh eyes on Australia’s spies
The powerful and secretive organisation tasked with probing Australia’s spy agencies to keep them inside the law has a new head.
Hon Margaret Stone, previously the federal government’s Independent Reviewer of Adverse Security Assessments and a former Federal Court Judge has been appointed the new Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), replacing highly respected outgoing chief, Vivienne Thom.
The role of the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (OIGIS) remains one of the most highly sensitive in terms of security in the government because it has the power to investigate intelligence agencies off its own bat, as well as conducting regular annual audits to ensure covert surveillance and collection activities stay between the lines.
It’s a dynamic and often unpredictable environment given recent issues that include accusations Australia bugged Timorese government facilities during resources negotiations, the death of Australian Israeli citizen Ben Zygier in jail in Israel and the Defence personnel security vetting scandal where whistle blowers revealed that outsourcers fudged background checks.
The IGIS’ extensive annual reports have also shown-up sometimes comical aspects of sypcraft gone awry, like the October 2014 revelation that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation had accidently bugged itself.
“ASIO intercepted, without warrant, calls made from one of its own regional offices due to a technical error. The data was deleted and processes put in place to ensure it does not happen again,” the IGIS’ last annual report noted.
The Prime Minister used the announcement of a new head for the OIGIS to emphasise that “the Australian intelligence community operates within a robust oversight and accountability framework, and the Inspector-General plays an important role in reviewing the activities of the intelligence agencies.”
Mr Abbott also paid tribute to Dr Thom whose term as Inspector-General, saying she had carried out her role “with diligence and integrity”.
VIC Auditor warns of ‘eroding mandate’
Outspoken Victorian Auditor-General John Doyle has tabled his office’s Annual Plan for 2015-16, saying the document will help address “significant concerns” that the key legislation for the office is out of date and that his mandate is being “eroded.”
Mr Doyle said the plan is a key accountability mechanism which ensures his office’s program during the year is flexible and responsive, adding it was developed “through matching key issues detected through ongoing scanning with resources.”
But the Auditor-General cautioned that “there are more audits listed than we can do.”
Mr Doyle, who was appointed by the former Coalition state government in 2013, has been outspoken in his criticism both of that Government and its ALP successor. “I am again calling for a rewrite of the Audit Act 1994. This includes the inclusion of an appropriate level of follow-the-dollar powers.”
Mr Doyle called for a rewrite before the state election, held in November 2014. He said just before the election the 20-year-old Audit Act had failed to keep up with changes in the way the Government was spending its money, particularly in regard to public-private partnerships (PPPs).
“The world has changed, with governments now using contracts and partnerships to deliver many services funded by taxpayers’ money,” he said then. “And yet, this money and the services it funds remain off radar, simply because Victoria’s audit legislation has not been updated. This means Victorian citizens are prevented from knowing how well their money is being spent.”
This story first appeared in Government News magazine in October/November 2015 and was written by Hon Megan Latham, Commissioner, Independent Commission Against Corruption, New South Wales.