IBAC's investigation process: from complaint to investigation outcome

Who can make a complaint to IBAC?

Anyone can make a complaint to IBAC via the complaints form. Complainants can also choose to remain anonymous if they prefer.

What happens once a complaint is lodged with IBAC?

Once a complaint is lodged with IBAC, we assess the complaint.

IBAC's assessment process results in one of three possible actions – IBAC will investigate the complaint, refer it to another organisation more appropriate to deal with it or we may determine the complaint is not confirmed or proven and it will be dismissed.

Can IBAC start its own investigation without a complaint?

Yes, we can.

Complaints are not the only starting point for an investigation – we might receive information or intelligence from a range of sources relating to a specific issue, or IBAC may build a picture about an issue over a period of time.

In these cases, IBAC may decide to start an ‘own motion’ investigation, as long as it falls within IBAC’s jurisdiction. It is worth knowing that not all of Australia’s anti-corruption bodies have this power.

For example, IBAC's intel sources may identify suspected corrupt conduct involving a large procurement project, or there may be footage publicised which indicates excessive use of force by a police officer. Or, we may even uncover evidence during an unrelated matter that indicates alleged corrupt conduct by a public servant. Rather than wait for a complaint to come in - and in some cases, IBAC may not receive a complaint - we may commence an investigation.

Own motion investigations must still meet the threshold required for an investigation to commence. That is, IBAC must suspect on reasonable grounds that the conduct to be investigated constitutes 'corrupt conduct' or 'police misconduct'.

What determines when a complaint is escalated to a full investigation?

IBAC may conduct a preliminary inquiry to help us determine whether to fully investigate a complaint or notification. Preliminary inquiries may be in response to a complaint or notification, or initiated by our own motion.

A complaint would be escalated to a full investigation when it is within IBAC's jurisdiction, there is sufficient evidence to support the allegations being made, and it is a matter that IBAC determines it will investigate.

There are a range of considerations for the last reason above - which include the complexity of the complaint and impact.

What happens when an investigation starts?

There are generally two key phases to an investigation – the covert and the overt phases.

The covert phase is used to determine whether there is substance to the matter. This covert phase is essentially hidden from the public view and includes any avenues of enquiry that can be conducted that don’t expose the existence of an IBAC investigation - this might include searching for documentation and records, both hardcopy and electronic, technical and physical surveillance, financial and probity profiling or intelligence searches. In essence, this phase involves building a significant profile around the persons of interest and the issue under investigation before we move to 'reveal' an investigation. In the covert phase, a lot of undercover/hidden activity takes place and it can take a lot of time.

Once IBAC moves to the overt phase, there may be search warrants and interviewing or examining to obtain further information from persons of interest or other witnesses. There may also be public or private examinations during this phase.

Once the examinations or interviews are conducted, there is a lot more work to do before an investigation is concluded and IBAC can work on what potential outcomes are.

What powers does IBAC have?

IBAC has a range of powers to investigate allegations of public sector corruption and police misconduct. These include being able to compel someone to produce documents or objects, seize documents and objects, enter and search premises, use surveillance devices, intercept telecommunications and require people to give evidence at an examination.

The investigative techniques IBAC uses is dependent on several factors including the nature of the allegation, whether there are witnesses, complexity and risk, and the seriousness of the conduct. Of course, there are legislation, guidelines and many oversight bodies to ensure we use these powers appropriately, and sometimes we must apply to the Supreme Court or other courts and tribunals before exercising them.

IBAC also has the power to hold private or public examinations. It is worth noting that when IBAC is deciding whether to hold an examination in public, by law, we must ensure on reasonable grounds that there are:

  • exceptional circumstances;
  • the conduct subject of the investigation may constitute serious/systemic corrupt or serious/systemic police personnel misconduct;
  • it is in the public interest to hold a public examination; and
  • the examination can be held a without causing unreasonable damage to a person's reputation, safety or wellbeing.

Why do investigations take so long?

Despite what you may see on TV shows, corruption issues are not solved overnight or in a one-hour episode - it takes time. We have to be precise, follow the rule of law, ensure natural justice and fairness to witnesses and persons of interest. This means our processes and investigations can take time to complete.

What happens when an investigation finishes?

When an investigation finishes, IBAC will decide whether public sector corruption or police misconduct has occurred.

If we make the decision to prosecute, IBAC gathers the evidence we have that is suitable to a prosecution case, as well as admissible evidence to support the case, create a brief of evidence and provide it to the Director of Public Prosecutions to make a determination.

Can IBAC prosecute people?

Under the IBAC Act, IBAC can prosecute certain offences or refer matters to the Office of Public Prosecutions. IBAC cannot decide if a person is innocent or guilty or determine entitlements and liabilities.

IBAC has conduct of proceedings brought for summary offences and offences triable summarily – matters which are ‘less serious’ and are tried by a judge in the Magistrates’ Court.

If IBAC brings proceedings involving 'more serious' indictable offences that require prosecution in the committal stream, these are referred to the Office of Public Prosecutions.

Do all investigations end in prosecution?

No, not all investigations end in prosecution. If there are no findings of corruption or police misconduct, IBAC may make no finding, take no action, or recommend preventative actions where systemic issues and organisational corruption are identified.

To give an example of this in practice, an investigation may not end in prosecution because it may not be in the public interest to pursue a prosecution. That may be because the behaviours have already been exposed in a public forum (i.e. public examinations), or because the people involved, or the institution, has corrected the behaviours or corruption vulnerabilities.

As IBAC's legislated functions are to identify, investigate, expose and prevent public sector corruption and police misconduct, then there may be instances where IBAC may not pursue prosecution because it has already achieved these functions.

Does IBAC always publish a report after an investigation?

No, not all investigations end in the publishing of a special report, but many do.

An important output of an IBAC investigation is the ability to publish a special report on the findings, conclusions or other information arising from an investigation.

A special report is a report prepared and published by IBAC. Special reports are provided to each House of the Parliament, are tabled in Parliament and may be published on IBAC's website.

Special reports can include information IBAC considers relevant to the investigation as well as comments, opinions or findings arising from the investigation.

Special reports also have a prevention and education function and may include information about the harmful effects of corruption or police personnel misconduct (if any) as well as ways to prevent such conduct.

Where can I find out more about IBAC's previous investigations?

IBAC publishes the details about both private and public investigations in our annual reports and special reports and as part of Investigation summaries.

Where can I find out more about IBAC's complaints process?

For video and flowcharts explaining how IBAC handles complaints, go to What happens to your complaint?