Mind games force corrupt officials to think twice

By Staff writers

Corruption prevention tactics that “mess with the minds” of public servants by detailing the ramifications of inappropriate behaviour could be the next weapon in the anti-corruption fight.

Speakers from anti-corruption bodies outlined some of their operational methods at last week’s Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference in Brisbane, among them Robert Waldersee, executive director, corruption prevention, education and research, from the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales.

“There are areas where CP (corruption prevention) is not doing what it could – we focus very heavily on audit, ethics and codes of conduct,” he said.

“We don’t focus very much on messing with people’s minds.”

Waldersee believes influencing people to make better choices may be as simple as telling them the upshot of corrupt behaviour.

“I don’t think many public servants would be aware of what happens if they’re done for disciplinary reasons on corruption – the potential effects on employability and on superannuation and various other penalties. There are many factors out there that could be deterrents, but we don’t use them … [Yet] it’s a lot cheaper to do it that way than to check everyone individually.”

Lewis Rangott, principal officer, local government and planning, for the ICAC told the conference there was more benefit in catching people “before they turn to the dark side”.

“The real future project for us in CP work is looking at antecedents of corrupt conduct,” he said.

It was a timely discussion given corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald’s remarks last week warning Queensland that successive governments were returning to the dark old days when deals between business and government were rife.

Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced at the conference the launch of a green paper on integrity and accountability in government and that Queensland would become the first state in Australia to ban success fees for lobbyists.

The APSAC event was co-hosted by the ICAC, the Crime and Misconduct Commission (QLD), and the Corruption and Crime Commission (WA). It attracted hundreds of delegates from across Australia who listened to presentations on topics including corruption prevention, whistleblower protection, the role of research in measuring corruption prevention and the impact of corruption inquiries.

One case study that was keenly discussed was an investigation into Wollongong Council in NSW by the ICAC, which last year made 24 corrupt conduct findings against 10 people, including some senior officers.  

Illana Halliday, director corporate community services for Wollongong City Council, told APSAC that significant changes had occurred at the council in the aftermath of the incident, including enterprise-wide risk management, management training, new values and a governance health check.

This was necessary, she said, because the events that led to the inquiry were not about “sex, money and politics” but “real things” which left many working at the council confused about what was acceptable behaviour.

Halliday said today the council enjoys a sense of urgency and unity.

“We can work together and we can show we can come through hell and come out of it.”

In his address, Chief Justice of Queensland Paul de Jersey AC said he was pleased Tasmania was moving toward establishing an independent anti-corruption agency, which would leave Victoria and South Australia as the only states without a corruption watchdog.

“While not inexpensive to maintain, these bodies armed with coercive and interrogative powers play an indispensable role in the independent monitoring of the public sector.”

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