Local government

Local government employees' perceptions of corruption 2022

Summary of key insights

Theme

Key findings

Opportunities

Perceptions about corruption as a problem in the workplace

  • Worse among employees working in depot operations
  • More employees ‘know what behaviour constitutes corruption’ in 2022 vs 2016
  • Prioritise depot operations work area for information

Areas most likely to be a ‘high risk’

  • Recruitment
  • Procurement
  • Favouritism
  • Breach of professional boundaries (bullying and harassment)
  • Prioritise these areas for education and prevention and detection activities

Offering or accepting gifts or benefits over $50

  • Managers more likely to rate the risk as higher
  • Continued reminders about responsibilities and monitor higher risk work functions (eg procurement, recruitment)

Organisational ethical culture

  • Most see the workplace culture as at least ‘moderately’ ethical and comes from the top
  • Regular monitoring of ethical health and integrity indicators
  • Ensure leaders ‘set the tone from the top’

Reporting corruption and misconduct

  • Increased intent to report misconduct compared to 2016
  • Most would report to their immediate manager
  • Some want more training / education
  • Review / improve organisational prevention education
  • Ensure people managers understand their role and complaint handling processes to follow

Awareness and understanding of IBAC

  • Many are aware of IBAC, but few have a good understanding of what IBAC does
  • Information mainly from media reporting
  • Raise awareness of other ways to find out about IBAC (eg website, prevention resources)

Prevalence of corruption and misconduct

Ninety per cent agree that they ‘know what behaviour constitutes corruption’, with 52 per cent strongly agreeing.More local government employees agree that they ‘know what behaviour constitutes corruption’ in 2022 compared to 2016.

Ninety per cent agree that they ‘know what behaviour constitutes corruption’, with 52 per cent strongly agreeing. This result is significantly higher compared to the findings from the 2016 survey (84% strongly agree + agree).

Corruption is seen to be a problem that exists in Victoria but is perceived to be a problem in other workplaces.

Perceptions that corruption happens and is a problem in Victoria, as well as within the workplaces of survey participants, have increased significantly since 2016.

In 2022, six in 10 employees (62%) agree that corruption is a problem in Victoria, fewer (17%) agree that it is a problem in their workplace. This increases to 23 per cent among those who work in depot operations where significantly more agree that corruption is a problem in their workplace.

In 2022, six in 10 employees (62%) agree that corruption is a problem in Victoria, fewer (17%) agree that it is a problem in their workplace. This increases to 23 per cent among those who work in depot operations where significantly more agree that corruption is a problem in their workplace.

Graph 1. Agreement with statements about corruption in Victoria (%)

Corruption or misconduct risks in local government are often identified to be in recruitment or procurement.

Victorian public sector employees were asked to nominate the most significant corruption or misconduct risks facing their organisation. A little over half of respondents identified at least one risk. The key risks identified included inappropriate recruitment procedures, bullying and harassment of staff, inappropriate procurement, or other misuse of funds. Comments also focus on risks around bribery, fraud and gifts or conflicts of interest, bias, or political influences. Councillors or developers are mentioned in a range of risks. 

Favouritism or nepotism and a breach of professional boundaries are the behaviours considered to be a ‘high risk’ of occurring (26% and 22% respectively).Favouritism or nepotism and a breach of professional boundaries are the behaviours considered to be a ‘high risk’ of occurring (26% and 22% respectively).

Overall, more than two-thirds of local government employees say there is a ‘high’ or ‘medium’ risk of favouritism in their organisation, with 22% perceiving it to be a ‘high’ risk. This is consistent with the findings from 2019. 

By comparison, there has been a significant decrease in the per cent of local government employees perceiving a medium or high risk of breaching professional boundaries (64% in 2022 compared to 68% in 2019). 

Behaviour outside work (such as external employment or public commentary) is the area where the risk of improper behaviours occurring is considered greatest – 43% rate this a ‘high’ or ‘medium risk’, although this has decreased significantly compared to 2019 (50%).

Graph 2. Likelihood or risk of improper behaviours occurring by an individual (%)

Behaviour outside work (such as external employment or public commentary) is the area where the risk of improper behaviours occurring is considered greatest – 43% rate this a ‘high’ or ‘medium risk’, although this has decreased significantly compared to 2019 (50%). Human resources management (38%) and procurement (30%) are the other main functions within an organisation rated as at higher risk of improper behaviours occurring. 

More than a third of local government employees have observed or suspected a breach of professional boundaries or favouritism in the past 12 months.

One in eight local government employees (13%) claim that they personally observed favouritism or nepotism in the last 12 months. Slightly more (16%) have personally observed a breach of professional boundaries. Between 79 and 85 per cent of local government employees reported they neither suspected nor observed many of the serious forms of improper behaviour within their organisation, such as fraud, theft, bribery, or extortion.

Employees in depot operations have a higher incidence of observing or suspecting all types of improper behaviours.   

One in eight local government employees (13%) claim that they personally observed favouritism or nepotism in the last 12 months.

Graph 3. Suspicion or observations of improper behaviours (%)

Most Victorian local government employees perceive risk, but not a ‘high risk’, of gifts being offered or accepted.

A little over half of Victorian local government employees (55%) think there is a ‘medium’ or ‘high’ risk of employees in procurement being offered gifts worth more than $50. A similar proportion (51%) see the same levels of risk that those gifts will be accepted. However, the risk that local government employees would ask for a gift is much lower (29% report a ‘medium’ or ‘high’ risk of this happening).

Managers (64%) and those working in civic development (61%) are significantly more likely to consider the risk to be higher for a supplier offering gifts or benefits. Managers (58%) were also more likely to consider the risk to be higher that employees would accept gifts or benefits.

A little over half of Victorian local government employees (55%) think there is a ‘medium’ or ‘high’ risk of employees in procurement being offered gifts worth more than $50.

Graph 4. Likelihood or risk of improper behaviours occurring between a business organisation and the public sector (%)

Victorian local government employees typically describe the ethical culture of their organisation as ‘strong’ or ‘moderate’.

In 2022, most local government employees (88%) describe the ethical culture of their organisation as ‘strong’ (46%) or ‘moderate’ (42%). The remaining 12 per cent rate the ethical culture as ‘weak’. Employees working in depot operations were significantly more likely to rate the ethical culture as weak (16%).

In 2022, most local government employees (88%) describe the ethical culture of their organisation as ‘strong’ (46%) or ‘moderate’ (42%). The remaining 12 per cent rate the ethical culture as ‘weak’.

Graph 5. Ethical culture of the organisation (%)

The findings are consistent with the 2019 survey where 88 per cent rated the ethical culture as ‘strong’ or ‘moderate’.

Local government employees identified reasons for how they rated the ethical culture at their organisation. Among those who feel their culture is ‘strong’, comments often mention transparency, open discussions, and modelling of the required behaviours by management. Those who rate the ethical culture of their organisation as ‘weak’ describe managements’ demonstration of ethical values as not ‘walking the walk’.

Those who rate the ethical culture of their organisation as ‘weak’ describe managements’ demonstration of ethical values as not ‘walking the walk’.

Most local government employees (60%) believe their organisation has a moderate level of vulnerability to corruption and misconduct.

Just under one in 10 employees rate their organisation as ‘highly vulnerable’ (8%) to corruption and misconduct. A third (32%) consider their organisation is ‘not vulnerable’ (up from 19% in 2019).

Just under one in 10 employees rate their organisation as ‘highly vulnerable’ (8%) to corruption and misconduct. A third (32%) consider their organisation is ‘not vulnerable’ (up from 19% in 2019).

Graph 6. Organisational vulnerability to corruption and misconduct (%)

Reporting corruption and misconduct

Most local government employees believe a report of corruption would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ be taken seriously.

Forty-five percent of employees are ‘definite’ that a report of corruption would be taken seriously, a further quarter (24%) think such a report would ‘probably’ be taken seriously. The percentage who believes a report would ‘definitely’ be taken seriously has significantly decreased in 2022 (45%) compared to 2019 (50%). Managers (56%) and employees working in corporate services roles (52%) are significantly more likely to believe a report would ‘definitely’ be taken seriously.

Most local government employees believe a report of corruption would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ be taken seriously

Graph 7. Would a report of corruption be taken seriously (%)

Among those who believe a report would not be taken seriously, views are that reports about senior management are treated less seriously (41%) or that senior management do not behave in line with their organisation’s values (41%).

Compared to the 2016 survey, there is an increased intent to report misconduct among local government employees and a belief that employees would be supported to do so.

The majority (86%) of local government employees ‘strongly agree’ or ‘somewhat agree’ that they would ‘definitely report’ corruption or misconduct if they observed it. This is a significant improvement on perceptions in 2016 (75% agree).

Most employees (70%) agree that they know how to report corruption or misconduct, although 61 per cent agree they would only report corruption or misconduct ‘if I knew my report would be anonymous’.

Most employees (80%) agree that their direct supervisor would be supportive if they chose to report corruption or misconduct, an important finding given most would likely report to an immediate manager (70%). Beyond this, employees are equally likely to report to IBAC or specifically designated staff at their organisation (e.g., ‘reporting officers’) (both 37%) or human resources (36%).

Most employees (80%) agree that their direct supervisor would be supportive if they chose to report corruption or misconduct, an important finding given most would likely report to an immediate manager (70%).

Graph 8. Agreement with statements regarding corruption and misconduct

Most employees feel their organisation is at least adequately improving integrity.

More than four in ten employees (42%) say their organisation does ‘very well’ to ‘ensure strong policies, procedures and controls are in place’, fewer (37%) feel their organisation does ‘very well’ to ensure ‘a strong ethical culture’. Similar proportions consider their organisation’s performance ‘adequate’ in both these areas (38% for each). Managers are more likely to consider their organisation is performing at least ‘adequately’ on all integrity and prevention actions rated in the survey.

Opportunities for improved training and accountability are among the themes raised to better reduce the risks of corrupt conduct occurring.

Opportunities for improved training and accountability are among the themes raised to better reduce the risks of corrupt conduct occurring.

Graph 9. Organisational performance in improving integrity and preventing corruption (%)

Local government employees were asked to nominate one thing that their organisation could do better to reduce risks of corrupt conduct occurring. Among those that provided a response, themes include increased training and transparency, action around making staff and councillors accountable and introducing or increasing oversight either with internal auditors or spot checks.

Awareness and perceptions of IBAC

Most Victorian local government employees (86%) have heard about IBAC but only one in ten (30%) have a good understanding of what IBAC does.

Many employees (45%) only know ‘a little’ about what IBAC does and a further 11 per cent have heard of IBAC but are ‘not sure what they do’. There is significantly higher awareness of IBAC among managers (92%) and those who work in regulatory functions (93%), civic development (90%) and corporate services (89%). Employees with up to five years in the public sector are significantly more likely not to have heard of IBAC (23% compared to 13% on average).

Many employees (45%) only know ‘a little’ about what IBAC does and a further 11 per cent have heard of IBAC but are ‘not sure what they do’.

Graph 10. Awareness of IBAC (%)

Awareness about IBAC among local government employees is most likely generated by media reporting.

Sixty-nine per cent of those who are aware of IBAC heard about IBAC through the media in the past 12 months. This was even higher for employees working in a metropolitan location (74%). Thirty-four per cent heard about IBAC being discussed in conversations.

Most local government employees have some level of confidence in IBAC’s abilities.

The majority are ‘confident’ (either ‘somewhat confident’, ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’) in IBAC’s ability to inform the public sector, police and community about the risks and impacts of corruption and police misconduct (66%), or to detect (62%) or investigate (67%) this. Fewer, although still the majority (59%), are at least ‘somewhat confident’ in IBAC’s ability to prevent corruption and police misconduct. 

Managers and those who work in corporate services have significantly higher than average levels of confidence in IBAC (Managers: 75% inform; 67% prevent; 68% detect; 75% investigate) (Corporate services: 72% inform; 64% prevent; 68% detect; 73% investigate).

The majority are ‘confident’ (either ‘somewhat confident’, ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’) in IBAC’s ability to inform the public sector, police and community about the risks and impacts of corruption and police misconduct (66%), or to detect (62%) or investigate (67%) this.

Graph 11. Confidence in IBAC (%)

Among those who are not confident in IBAC’s ability in its areas of remit (around one-fifth of all participants provided a response), themes raised include a lack of awareness of IBAC or lack of resourcing to enable it to be effective (including specifically at a local government level), and a belief that IBAC can only investigate after the fact. Other comments follow themes that IBAC is ineffective and political influence could be responsible, or that corruption is endemic.

Other comments follow themes that IBAC is ineffective and political influence could be responsible, or that corruption is endemic.

 

Demographics

Sex

Male: 36%; Female: 52%;
Prefer to self-describe: 1%

Age

Under 40 years old: 25%

Geographical location

Work in metropolitan Melbourne: 46%
Work in regional Victoria: 50%

Experience 

Up to 5 years working in the public sector: 30%
More than 20 years in the public sector: 19%

sector of work managerial level

About the survey

In May 2022, a variety of communication channels were used to promote an online survey to employees working in local government. Direct communications were sent to all 79 Victorian local councils. Senior leaders were requested to share the link and encourage their staff to participate. In total, 2,471 Victorian local government employees completed a survey between 5-27 May 2022.

The findings from the 2022 survey have been compared with the IBAC surveys of the local government sector undertaken in 2019 and 2016. It is important to note that while some questions were retained, the questionnaire structure was updated in 2022, meaning results may not be directly comparable.

At the time the 2022 survey fieldwork was underway, there was media reporting relating to IBAC and several major operations. This may have impacted on some of the perceptions reported by participants in the surveys.