NSW ICAC wants crack down on employment screening

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has recommends to the State Government that it adopt stronger employment screening practices. It says that this will help combat employment application fraud, which if left undetected can ultimately allow other corrupt conduct to occur.

ICAC Chief Commissioner Peter Hall said that employment application fraud is common in NSW, and that between 20 and 30 percent of government job applications contain false information.

“The detrimental effects that poor employment screening practices have can be very wide reaching,” he said. This puts agencies at financial risk and impacts upon their ability to discharge their public service functions efficiently and effectively.

The recommendations are contained in a new ICAC report, ‘Strengthening employment screening practices in the NSW public sector’. The report refers to a number of its published investigations that examine the conduct arising from undetected employment application fraud.

These include gaining improper financial benefits. It gives the example of ‘Operation Sonet’, which resulted in an individual with an undetected fraud conviction making a corrupt profit of $1.14 million after being appointed acting IC) manager and then overcharging for ICT project items.

“The report provides solutions that will help NSW public sector agencies weed out these problems earlier in the process, before they become a corruption burden on the agency and the state, said Mr Hall. “ICAC recommends that employment screening should not just be a one-off aspect of the initial recruitment process, but should also be applied during the course of the individual’s tenure, for example, if an individual is to be promoted to a higher position within the agency.”

The Hon Peter Hall QC  is a former NSW Supreme Court judge who was appointed Chief Commissioner of ICAC for a five-year term in August 2017. He previously acted as counsel assisting the Building Industry Royal Commission and the inquiry into the Waterfall Train Disaster.

The report also recommends that NSW government agencies adopt an integrated approach to address employment application fraud. These measures include designing and implementing a risk-based employment screening framework, assigning roles and responsibilities for employment screening, improving the quality of employment screening checks and screening non-permanent workers such as contingent hires.

Under section 8(2A) of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988, fraudulently obtaining or retaining employment or appointment as a public official can constitute corrupt conduct. Examples include candidates claiming degrees and qualifications that had never been awarded, falsifying work histories or work achievements, concealing a history of criminal or disciplinary activity and using false or misleading referees.

The report also notes that applicants who have engaged in employment application fraud, once they are able to secure a position, sometimes go on to engage in other forms of corrupt conduct.

The report is available here.

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