SA ICAC concerned public officers ignore or don’t understand corruption reporting obligations

South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption has issued a warning to politicians and their staff to report corruption or misconduct to her office, saying she has been disappointed to learn of serious allegations from the media.

“It is disappointing to learn of the possible existence of serious allegations of misconduct in public administration from the media,” Ann Vanstone QC said.

In a statement, Ms Vanstone warned public officers they have a legal obligation to report corruption and serious misconduct and maladministration.

“I take this opportunity to remind all parliamentarians, parliamentary staffers and those working in electorate offices that this obligation extends to you,” she said.

“Corruption is defined in the ICAC Act to be any criminal offence committed by a person in their capacity as a public officer … All conduct of this type must be reported.

“Misconduct and maladministration would be serious or systemic if it were likely to undermine public confidence in, or have significant implications for, the relevant public authority or for public administration in general … Any conduct that reaches this threshold must be reported.”

Ms Vanstone went on to speculate why her office had learnt of some allegations of serious misconduct from the media, rather than politicians and their staff.

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“It might be that the conduct is not considered to have met the threshold that requires a report to be made, or it might be that the reporting obligation is not well understood.

Ms Vanstone reminded politicians and senior members of government agencies to make themselves aware of their reporting obligations.

“If they are not, they should contact my office to arrange an information session,” she said.

“They must also ensure that all of their staff are aware of the obligation to report and feel empowered to do so.”

Media reports prompted warning

While the commissioner’s statement doesn’t point to specific media reports, in July last year her predecessor began investigating the use of the Country Members Accommodation Allowance by some MPs, following reporting by the ABC.

In March, the state’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner released a damning report into the “toxic” workplace culture at Parliament House.

The review found sexual harassment was prevalent in South Australia’s Parliament, with eight people reporting being victims of sexual harassment by MPs or their staff in the past five years.

The review stated that six matters alleging harassment or bullying had been reported to the Office for Public Integrity in 2019 and 2020.

Three of those matters were not pursued by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Ann Vanstone, at least in part because there was no code of conduct for MPs.

In March, SA Parliament formed a committee to draft a code of conduct for all MPs, in an attempt to improve the culture of South Australia’s Parliament.

It came after Ms Vanstone described the lack of a code of conduct as a “great regret”.

“This state is the only state not to have such a code and it’s a matter of great regret,” Ms Vanstone said.

She said the absence of such a code would “impede me or the ombudsman in investigating and making findings about the conduct of parliamentarians”.

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