The Integrity Commission is an independent statutory body set up to combat and reduce misconduct in the public sector in the Australian Capital Territory. Its functions and powers are set out in the Integrity Commission Act 2018.
The Integrity Commission’s role is to:
- investigate corrupt conduct;
- refer suspected instances of criminality or wrongdoing to appropriate authorities for action;
- prevent corruption, including by research and mitigating risks;
- publishing information about investigations, including lessons learned;
- providing education programs to politicians, the public sector and the general public on the detrimental effects of corruption and how to prevent it;
- foster public confidence in government and the public sector.
The Act defines corrupt conduct as conduct that could constitute a criminal offence, a serious disciplinary offence, or reasonable grounds for dismissing a public official. It includes conduct by a public official that:
- is not honest or impartial;
- constitutes a breach of public trust;
- constitutes the misuse of information;
- adversely affects, either directly or indirectly, the honest or impartial exercise of functions by a public authority or official;
- is a criminal offence.
This can include collusive tendering; fraud in relation to licences, permits and other authorities designed to protect health and safety, the environment or resources; dishonestly obtaining or benefitting from public funds or public assets; defrauding public revenue; and fraudulently obtaining or retaining employment as a public official. Criminal offences include blackmail, bribery, theft, fraud, drug dealing, forgery and illegal gambling. Public officials include State Government employees, police, politicians and university staff.
The Integrity Commission prioritises investigating and exposing serious and systemic corrupt conduct. Serious corrupt conduct means corrupt conduct that is likely to threaten public confidence in the integrity of government or public administration. Systemic corrupt conduct means a pattern of corrupt conduct in one or more public sector entities.
Any person may make a complaint about corrupt conduct, and entities such as the ACT Audit Office or ACT Ombudsman can refer a complaint about corrupt conduct to the Integrity Commission. The commission must investigate, dismiss or refer a compliant or mandatory corruption notification.
Under the Act, certain people must make “mandatory corruption notifications” if they suspect serious or systemic corrupt conduct. These people are the head of a public sector entity, an SES member, a member of the Legislative Assembly or their staff, and Opposition Leader or their staff, and a chief of staff of a government minister. Failure to make a mandatory corruption notification incurs a maximum penalty of a fine of 50 penalty units ($8000).
The Integrity Commission can conduct an investigation if it receives a report or on its own initiative. It can conduct a joint investigation with an integrity body or law enforcement agencies.
An Integrity Commission investigation is not bound by the rules of evidence. The commission can conduct a public examination into a matter if it is satisfied this is in the public interest and this will not unreasonably infringe a person’s human rights. In considering whether an examination should be public, the commission must consider factors such as the benefit of exposing the corrupt conduct, the seriousness of the allegation, and whether the corrupt conduct is related to an individual and was isolated or systemic.
The Integrity Commission has special powers in relation to investigations.
For instance, it can issue a “confidentiality notification”, which directs a person not to disclose restricted information. The notification is issued on the basis that the release of the information (such as evidence or documents) might prejudice the investigation, the safety or reputation of a person, or the fair trial of a person who has been or who may be charged with an offence.
It also has the power to issue an “examination summons”, which requires a person to attend a specified time and place on a specified date to produce documents or other things to the commission. Immediate attendance can be ordered if the commission suspects a delay could result in evidence being lost or destroyed, an offence being committed, a person escaping, or serious prejudice to the investigation. A warrant can be issued if a person fails to comply with an examination summons.
It also has the power to issue a suppression order that prohibits or restricts the publication of any information or evidence given during a public examination.
After completing an investigation, the Integrity Commission must prepare a report of the investigation. The report must include the commissions findings, opinions and recommendations and the reasons for them.
For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.