Video Transcript

Stephen O'Bryan - Corruption Prevention and Integrity Conference 2017 opening address

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of IBAC, and our conference partners and supporters, I extend a warm welcome to you all today at what should be a very engaging and useful conference. Thank you in particular to our guests from overseas and interstate for making the journey. Welcome to Victoria. Welcome to Melbourne.

When we decided to convene this conference, we were unsure how popular it would be, given the many demands on our key target audience who are fellow Victorian public sector employees and others committed to building corruption resistance and integrity in our public sector. We're delighted to have some 350 plus registrations - quite beyond our expectations. The positive response to this conference demonstrated by your attendance here today, as well as by the high calibre of people who have registered to attend and speak is testament to how seriously we all take corruption prevention, and the building of our integrity capacity across the public sector.

We are proud to offer today and tomorrow an impressive and relevant program with presentations from our state as well as interstate and international leaders in corruption prevention and integrity. I appreciate that most, if not all of you have come to this conference because like us at IBAC, you care about the matters being discussed. It is my experience and I'm confident that most of us in this room have a similar experience, that the vast majority of people who choose to work in the public sector do so because they have a commitment to public service.

There are many paths open to us all in pursuing our careers, but in my view, choosing public service is one of the most noble and worthy. I know this commitment to public service is at the heart of the work of our conference partners, as well as supporters. I take this early opportunity to thank our conference partners for their contribution in bringing the conference to you. The Victorian Ombudsman, the Victorian Auditor General, and IPAA Victoria.

Likewise our conference supporters, the Victorian Public Sector Commission, the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate, and the Australian Institute of Criminology. We would not have been able to convene such a rich and informed program without their contribution. I also acknowledge the generous willingness of our many presenter's, speakers and workshop facilitators for their time and participation. And thanks to our IBAC staff who have worked so hard and professionally to deliver this conference. We all want to ensure that our organisations have integrity and that our workplaces deliver the best possible services.

This cannot occur if there is corruption of any sort. Where there is corruption or police misconduct it hurts us all. We all understand and appreciate that corruption is not a victimless crime. It devotes scarce public funds, ie taxpayers money that should be spent on our schools, hospitals, public transport and other vital public services and infrastructure.

Corruption impacts the good administration of our public service. It also adversely impacts on the good reputation of our public sector, as well as the confidence the Victorians have in our public service organisations and agencies. And it has negative flow-on impact on all of the people who work in our public sector. Most public sector employees are deeply committed to their work and take pride in their work and corruption has such a big impact not only on the people who are deprived of services because of it, but also because it strikes at the heart of what most public sector employees care about, and that is commitment to public service.

As I've said, public sector corruption hurts us all and we all want to put a stop to it and that is why we're here today. When I was approached for this role five years ago I had to think carefully about stepping out of my comfort zone as a career lawyer. There were also well-publicised perspectives and views about the new agency that were of some concern, which I had to take into consideration.

Like many tribes, Victorians can be a parochial bunch - perhaps a bit complacent with a sense of being different to other states, and so we sometimes heard the view that there was no serious corruption in Victoria.

Victoria does have much to be proud of and I believe we do excel in the broad range of areas particularly in our public sector. Importantly many in this room have contributed to these notable achievements, but back to 2012 while there was general bipartisan political support for an anti-corruption agency, I think it is fair to say that many Victorians thought we were somehow immune, somehow free of the corruption exposed in other states by commissions of inquiry and anti-corruption commission's.

Some suggested our only concern was just a small number of rogue police. IBAC's police oversight powers were not debated much at the time because we were essentially given the same broad powers that the former Office of Police Integrity had to investigate police corruption and misconduct. However, IBAC's power to investigate corrupt conduct in the broader public sector was a different story.

Putting aside the debate about the need for an independent anti-corruption agency, the draft IBAC legislation was criticised by a variety of commentators with a common theme being that IBAC was likely to be ineffective due to the restrictive nature of its investigative powers. Some went as far as suggesting it was designed to fail. So I had to consider whether this new IBAC could do the work that was required because I saw a little point becoming involved if it could not. One of the issues was that the original definition of corrupt conduct in our act was narrow because it required prescribed criminal offending with the offence of Misconduct in Public Office or MIPO not included.

So initially we could not investigate alleged serious MIPO and on a plain reading of our act serious conflicts of interest, which we know often masks criminal behaviour, nor could we investigate nepotism, other unreasonable or suspicious favouritism, internal deception or other wrongdoing such as undue influence or other forms of corruption of proper process. While not amounting to criminal offending such behaviours in the public sector would meet ordinary definitions of corrupt conduct. Another concern was that the threshold we had to meet before commencing investigations into public sector conduct was high. We had to be reasonably satisfied about the existence of corrupt conduct based on facts that if proven at trial beyond reasonable doubt would establish an offence had been committed. I shared the concerns of commentators about the potential for this vague language to land us in regular court challenges thereby thwarting effective and timely investigation of serious matters.

So there was concern that IBAC did not have all the powers that it needed as well as undesirable restrictions. However, I decided that taking a practical approach to how one might interpret our act. Here was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become part of an invaluable effort to determine for the very first time in Victoria just how corruption free its public sector was. Once established at IBAC, all of us there simply got on with the job of performing our primary function of investigating and exposing serious corrupt conduct as well as police misconduct.

We quickly commenced a range of investigations into alleged serious public sector corrupt conduct alongside our serious police misconduct investigations and also began our important prevention and education work. We also work to build a strong case for the Parliament to amend our legislation to improve our ability to more effectively fulfil our purpose. We were pleased when our legislation was amended last year as part of the government's stronger integrity system reforms making it more straightforward for us to commence investigations. Furthermore the introduction of a mandatory requirement for public sector agency heads to report suspected corrupt conduct came into effect in December last year.

Before this, corrupt conduct notifications by government agencies other than police were voluntary. This was another positive however, there is naturally still room for improvement in terms of strengthening our legislation.

One thing I would like to see IBAC given are follow the dollar powers similar to those now available to the Auditor General. These powers would enhance our ability to more thoroughly investigate public sector corruption, which so often involves complex and well disguised financial arrangements between public and private entities. On this front Dr Anna Sergy, our next speaker will be sharing her research on the nexus between dollars, when large amounts of public money are being spent and the opportunity for corruption. Her research into the links between organised crime and public sector corruption, and the strategies and approaches being employed by organised crime, including in particular mafia groups to corrupt public administration, is very relevant and interesting.

Now reflecting on the nearly five years of IBAC's work to date, I am confident most informed commentators would agree that IBAC has done more than a reasonable job of helping to expose and prevent corruption in Victoria.

Looking back as I approach the end of my term, I'm very pleased that despite the predictions of some, IBAC has made a significant contribution to the integrity system of this state. I do not intend to list our achievements. They are contained in our public reports however, I do recommend our most recent Annual Report to you as an informative overview of our work. It is available at the information desk in the foyer and on our website along with all our public reports and resources. I consider it fair to say that IBAC has changed perceptions about how corruption is viewed in Victoria, and we have exposed serious public sector corruption and police misconduct. We also have a clear strategy for helping the public sector to prevent corruption. The importance that we place on our prevention and education function was another reason for us to convene this conference. We understand that IBAC cannot fulfil this function alone.

To be successful in preventing corruption it takes all of us. Every one of us who has a commitment to prevent corruption to work together. It is only by working collectively that we can achieve our shared vision of a public sector that actively resists corruption. I want to acknowledge that there has been substantial investment and effort made by our public sector with some very notable examples of where public sector agencies are undertaking leading work to strengthen their systems and practices to prevent corruption. You will be hearing more from some of the leaders of these organisations over the next two days.

While much has and is being achieved we cannot be complacent. Human nature being what it is, we know we will never eliminate corruption, and we know there are very real and present corruption risks and vulnerabilities in our public sector. We must and can always do more. For example, our research shows that while most public sector employees feel that reporting corruption is the right thing to do, many fear negative personal repercussions if they do report it. A robust protected disclosure or whistle-blower regime to encourage those who suspect that something isn't right to report it is, absolutely crucial.

It is generally the people within an organisation who are in the best position to know about, or reasonably suspect wrongdoing, and who are in a position to speak up, that they need reassurance that they will not suffer adverse consequences if they do. In Victoria our protected disclosure regime provides safeguards but, we all need to do more to address these perceived barriers to reporting corruption and increase understanding of the protections available.

The IBAC parliamentary committee has recently reviewed our protected disclosure regime, and its recommendations are now subject to government consideration. We look forward to seeing this important regime further enhanced. As part of our remit to raise awareness about corruption and encourage reporting, IBAC recently ran a community education campaign including advertising and production of videos for the general public, as well as materials for the public sector. The campaign aims to increase understanding and awareness of corruption, how to report it and build confidence in the protected disclosure regime.

Some of the images from these campaigns have been scrolling on the screens during my address. Similarly, this conference is designed to raise awareness of corruption and how to prevent it. It is designed to share learnings, the latest research, what others are doing and what is working. Our conference partners, the Victorian Ombudsman, Victorian Auditor General's Office and our other Victorian integrity agencies as well as our supporters and the many other organisations and individuals represented at this conference all have relevant and important information to share. I want to finish now by again warmly welcoming you all here.

Thank you for being here this morning and for the contributions you will make over the next two days. I encourage you all to enjoy the next two days, to participate actively, to learn and to share your valuable insights.