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Managing corruption risk in the APS

Public debate in some quarters calls for a Commonwealth Anti-Corruption Commission to be established, similar to the bodies that exist in each state. While the Australian Government faces corruption risks, particularly in the regulatory and law enforcement fields, due to the nature of functions performed by state public services (for example, land planning approvals and mining licences) state activities are often inherently more susceptible to corruption.

Nevertheless, the APS cannot afford to ignore the risk of corruption. This was demonstrated most recently by an alleged criminal conspiracy involving the ACBPS staff, to import illegally, through Sydney International Airport, pseudoephedrine and other chemicals to manufacture illegal drugs. This matter led to a joint investigation by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, the ACBPS and the Australian Federal Police in 2011. As a result, four ACBPS employees were arrested between August 2012 and February 2013. A significant program of reform was subsequently instituted in the ACBPS, supported by legislative changes to strengthen its integrity culture, people capability, law enforcement capacity and business operations.

As part of the integrity reforms, the Chief Executive Officer of the ACBPS was given new powers to:

  • conduct targeted integrity tests on officers suspected of corruption
  • authorise drug and alcohol testing of all ACBPS employees
  • make a declaration that an employee has been terminated for serious misconduct (which modifies appeal rights)
  • issue binding orders relating to conduct and integrity, such as mandatory reporting of misconduct.

These new powers bring the ACBPS into closer alignment with integrity arrangements already in place in the Australian Federal Police and Australian Crime Commission.10

When instances of corruption arise they have important lessons for the APS. Crucially, these cases remind the APS it is not immune from corruption. There is a need to assess, and mitigate, the risks of corruption in the context of each agency's functions, risk profile and operating environment. It is in the context of such risks that the Attorney-General's Department, in consultation with other agencies, has undertaken a review of existing Australian Government anti-corruption arrangements.


Footnotes

10 Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, Operation Heritage—a joint investigation of alleged corrupt conduct among officers of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service at Sydney International Airport (Interim Report), Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2013).