Public examinations bring important issues to light
With Operation Ord examinations commencing next week, I’d like to highlight the reasons for making some IBAC hearings public when others remain private.
It’s important to first understand that examinations (whether public or private) are part of an ongoing investigative process.
While public examinations suggest finality to the public, the purpose of the examinations is to gather information. An examination is not a trial and cannot determine the guilt or innocence of anyone against whom an allegation has been made.
Most of our examinations are private. This protects witnesses and ensures the integrity of our investigations. However, in exceptional circumstances I have the discretion to decide to hold public examinations when it’s in the public interest – for example, when the allegations are particularly serious or systemic in nature.
It is important to note that the IBAC Act provides protections to witnesses giving evidence at public examinations. Any answer, information or document provided that may incriminate the witness is not admissible in evidence against them in any subsequent court proceeding, except in certain proceedings such as offences against the IBAC Act and the Protected Disclosure Act (and others).
One of the reasons for conducting examinations in public is to encourage persons with relevant information to come forward. Reports are vital to IBAC achieving its objective of exposing serious corrupt conduct and police misconduct.
Shortly after commencing public examinations in Operation Fitzroy, IBAC received a number of complaints about possible corrupt conduct in the public sector. Complainants generally indicated they were encouraged to come forward as a result of media coverage of Operation Fitzroy and IBAC’s apparent effectiveness as an independent investigative body.
Some of the fresh information related to matters which were subject of the investigation, leading to a significant new witness being called during phase two of the hearings. Other information, whilst not related to Operation Fitzroy, was nevertheless of interest to IBAC.
Apart from seeking to establish the truth about relevant events and encouraging people with information to come forward, the publicity surrounding the examinations can assist in educating public servants about how to recognise corrupt conduct. This supports our important education and corruption prevention role.
Our research suggests that many senior Victorian public sector employees would have trouble identifying corruption risks, and would not know where to report corruption. Public sector employees must first understand what constitutes corruption and police misconduct, in order to prevent and report it. Our public hearings are an important mechanism in bringing these issues to light.
Public examinations provide people with insights into the dangers created by issues such as conflicts of interest which, when undeclared and mismanaged, pose significant risks both to the integrity of public sector agencies’ procurement processes and to their reputations.
Finally, public examinations serve as a deterrent to others in the public sector and demonstrate to witnesses waiting to be called the futility of giving false evidence.
I would encourage anyone with information about suspected corruption or police misconduct to contact IBAC through our website or call us on 1300 735 135.
Stephen O'Bryan QC