The Territory’s ICAC has received hundreds of reports of improper conduct allegations since November 2018. (ABC News: Dane Hirst)
‘Serious allegations’ of corruption within NT public service received by new anti-corruption watchdog
An “extremely disturbing” trend of Northern Territory public servants facing “reprisals” for raising concerns about corruption or improper conduct has triggered a call for the region’s whistleblower laws to be strengthened.
- The ICAC reported that 16 of 16 whistleblowers faced reprisals in NT Government workplaces
- The Commissioner has flagged new guidelines to be rolled out across NT Government agencies
- There is a call for managers to be at the forefront of cultural changes
Reports of whistleblower reprisals have surfaced in two new reports about the Territory’s newly established Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
“It has been suggested to me that some agency staff are reluctant to refer matters to the ICAC because of fear of reprisal despite the statutory requirements to do so,” wrote Bruce McClintock, the inspector of the ICAC, in a preliminary report.
“If that is the case it is highly regrettable, and action should be considered by way of amendment to strengthen whistleblower protection.
“If, as the [NT ICAC] general manager [Matthew Grant] has informed me, 16 out of 16 whistleblowers have had reprisals taken against them, it is extremely disturbing.”
The Territory’s ICAC received 318 reports of alleged “improper conduct, corrupt conduct, misconduct, unsatisfactory conduct and breach of public trust” between its establishment in November 2018 and August 2019.
Of these, Mr McClintock’s report revealed, 114 have been assessed, with 22 of these being “passed for investigation”.
There also remained, the report stated, “certain agencies [that] are reluctant to refer appropriate matters to the ICAC”.
“If such a culture exists, it must change,” Mr McClintock wrote.
Commissioner urges NT to take action
The corruption watchdog’s Commissioner, Ken Fleming, has also made an urgent call for better whistleblower protections to be put in place.
“Reports of improper conduct in the NT began rolling in on the day that the ICAC Act commenced, and the flow of reports has increased over time,” Mr Fleming said in the ICAC’s newly released annual report.
ICAC Commissioner Ken Fleming wants to see tougher whistleblower protections. (ABC News: Alan Dowler)
“Whistleblowers play a critical role in the push to restore integrity in public administration … I believe the NT, as with other jurisdictions across Australia, must do more to protect whistleblowers from reprisal.
“My office is committed to pursuing reforms in the NT that will further protect whistleblowers from reprisal.”
The ICAC is now preparing to publish new guidelines to be adopted by the NT Government’s departments and agencies aimed at helping minimise “risks of retaliation”.
The guidelines are currently with department heads for consultation prior to their publication around November 30.
Managers must be at fore of changes
Department heads need to be at the fore of “promoting the cultural change necessary to stamp out corruption in public administration”, according to Mr Fleming.
“NT Government agencies must take all reasonable steps to ensure that whistleblowers do not face negative repercussions for speaking up about wrongdoing in the workplace,” he said.
In his report Mr Fleming thanked the “brave people” who had reported “improper conduct” in the NT’s public service.
The ICAC currently has six full-time investigators engaged to look into “reports of serious, sensitive, contemporary and systemic corrupt conduct”.
The NT Government passed laws in early 2018 to give the ICAC powers to investigate offenders, including use of surveillance and assuming false identities in order to elicit evidence.
Attorney-General Natasha Fyles and Chief Minister Michael Gunner were approached for comment over whether they would support stronger legislation to protect whistleblowers.
They were expected to respond to the issue later today.