24 February 2021

Commissioner calls for action with misconduct probes taking up to 200 days

| Dominic Giannini
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Public Sector Standards Commissioner Ian McPhee

The ACT Public Sector Standards Commissioner Ian McPhee says investigations into allegations of misconduct need to be conducted better. Photo: File.

Investigations into complaints of misconduct in the ACT public service are taking up to 200 days to reach a conclusion, leading to “angst and concern” according to ACT Public Sector Standards Commissioner Ian McPhee.

Mr McPhee said the processes of investigating misconduct allegations within the sector needed to be improved as these lengthy investigations were impacting on individuals and the Directorates where the alleged misconduct happened.

The Commissioner said he was unaware of how the ACT’s investigation process is benchmarked against other jurisdictions but that “my personal view is that we can collectively do better”.

There were 61 investigations concluded during 2019-20 and 49 were found to have breached at least one section of the public sector standards.

One of the investigations was outsourced by the Commissioner.

Most of the complaints related to a lack of courtesy, sensitivity and respect and failure to exercise reasonable care or diligence.

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Other breaches also included failure to act with integrity or honesty; bullying harassment or intimidation; unauthorised disclosure or release of information; conduct that would bring the ACTPS into disrepute; failure to comply with the ACT’s laws; and failure to follow written or verbal direction.

Mr McPhee said the reinforcement of public sector values around integrity by managers and the Directorate can help mitigate breaches of the Code of Conduct.

“The standout issues are when you observe early signs of misconduct, just intervene – have quiet words to the person, have a discussion early on,” he said.

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“Every six months I write to the Directors-General [of Directorates] to not only explain our statistics but to try and extract from our misconduct investigations the messages for Directorates and to reinforce good practice to try and prevent misconduct.”

Allegations of misconduct have remained steady over the last few years, but there are signs that the number of complaints is now rising incrementally, Mr McPhee said.

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So what are Commissioner McPhee’s proposed solutions to the problem? Don’t just call out the issue – provide options for solving the lengthy timeframes.

Some Directorates pay lip service to the Code of Conduct, then protect employees who have had numerous complaints made against them.

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