Message from the Commissioner - September 2019

The Honourable Robert Redlich QC

Welcome to the September issue of IBAC Insights.

Integrity at work: how our everyday behaviours create a culture of integrity

Last month I joined public sector leaders to discuss community trust in the public sector as one of the many activities organised by the Institute of Public Administration Australia's Victorian chapter for Public Sector Week. This event explored the important issue of building trust in public sector organisations and in the public sector more broadly. Building trust is the responsibility of everyone working in the public sector and is impacted by our everyday behaviours in the workplace.

All public sector employees, from those in entry level positions to senior executives, are responsible for the integrity of their decisions. Behaviours and cultures that contribute to misconduct and corruption undermine our public sector and decrease public trust and confidence. There is a collective challenge when misconduct occurs, but also when it is then subsequently concealed or obscured.

Integrity is a broad concept that covers all the little interactions in our day-to-day work. Things such as favouritism, misusing information, collusion, deliberate non-compliance with procedures and inaction on such conduct can all constitute breaches of integrity that create poor culture and lead to more serious problems within an organisation. Corruption often starts with failing to adhere to proper processes and a willingness to engage in activities such as poorly managing conflicts of interest. This is a topic explored by Mr David Burfoot in his excellent article in this issue of IBAC Insights.

Disappointingly, often in response to the evidence of corrupt conduct, the fall-back position of some public sector leaders is to focus on the ‘myth of the sole bad apple’ rather than taking a hard look at addressing the organisational features that enabled the corruption to occur. ‘Bad apples’ occur when there is a cultural problem within an organisation and a group of people who, through a combination of inaction and error, allow the ‘bad apples’ to exist and spread their influence.

When people conceal issues rather than talking about and addressing them, dissatisfaction accumulates, causing a loss of morale, which is difficult to remedy. By contrast, in an organisation that has a culture of integrity, everyone takes responsibility for their actions and mistakes and deals with colleagues openly and respectfully rather than with recriminations or by hiding issues.

One of the universal problems identified by research on integrity and corruption is that people often end up tolerating breaches of integrity and unethical behaviour – sometimes for long periods of time – because organisational goals are being met. In such cases, it is often only when organisational outcomes are not achieved the focus can turn to examining the process that was followed. Breaches of integrity or unsatisfactory workplace behaviour cannot be justified or ignored by the fact that the job was done and goals were met. Meeting organisational outcomes can never justify misconduct, breaches of integrity, or lack of respect and openness in the workplace.

Most public sector leaders appreciate that an organisation with a culture of integrity promotes and rewards ethical behaviour. These organisations make sure people who conduct themselves in ways that demonstrate the importance of complying with integrity obligations are recognised. Performance assessments can provide a regular reminder of how the workplace expects people to go about their work – by being respectful, open, sympathetic and behaving with integrity. And when we do all that, we will have workplaces everybody can be proud of and will better meet community needs and expectations.

7th Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference

Ways of preventing corruption and supporting the building of integrity in our public sector is the focus of the 7th Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference. With just over a month to go, the conference program is now finalised and promises to deliver an engaging and informative event. I encourage those interested to register and join us in Melbourne for this excellent program.

Changes to Victoria's protected disclosure legislation

An important focus for IBAC in the coming months is providing support to public sector agencies on changes to Victoria’s protected disclosure legislation, which come into effect on 1 January 2020. As the lead agency responsible for managing protected disclosure complaints, IBAC is working with other integrity agencies, public sector departments and agencies to help them prepare for these changes to Victoria’s integrity system.

It takes courage to speak up and make a disclosure about improper conduct by a public official or public body. We know from our research, including into perceptions of corruption and barriers to reporting, the effectiveness of any system for the making of disclosures relies on people believing they will be supported and protected from reprisal if they come forward with their disclosure. These changes are an opportunity for public sector leaders and others to reinforce how Victoria’s system for making disclosures operates and to encourage management of reporting.

Thanks to our guest authors

This issue of IBAC Insights features articles authored by Mr Andrew Crow and Ms Judy Sutherland, from the Department of Health and Human Services about a new resource developed to help Victoria’s public health sector address fraud and corruption risks. Mr David Burfoot from The Ethics Centre discusses the important topic of managing conflicts of interest, and Professor Robert Klitgaard previews his keynote address at the forthcoming 7th Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference in October, considering whether corruption has become a way of life, and the collective action required by all of us to fighting systemic corruption.

The Honourable Robert Redlich QC

Read more in IBAC Insights Issue 21.