The Integrity Commission Act 2009, though not without flaws, does have sufficient powers to deal effectively with serious misconduct in public institutions.
In the view of the Greens, the main issue with the Commission is its failure to flex its muscle under the Act, to strengthen governance, integrity and transparency.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the statements made to the Commission of Inquiry by the current CEO, Michael Easton.
Unfortunately, the transcript outlines the unapologetic failure of the Integrity Commission to deal with a serious complaint in an effective, rigorous manner.
Despite having the power to investigate allegations of misconduct, the Commission referred allegations involving potential organisational-level cover up of child sexual abuse to the same organisation to self-investigate.
The CEO claimed in a statement this complaint was actively monitored. However, he was unable to produce any evidence of active monitoring beyond a letter seeking an update, eight months after the referral.
After questioning, he claimed he couldn’t justify the word “actively” or the word “monitored”, but did not retract the statement when asked if he would.
The Department of Health went on allocate the case to be handled by a HR manager at the LGH, who oversaw the unit to which the complaint, in part, related.
It was also clear the Commission has the power to reclaim a referred complaint. A power that, had the investigation been appropriately monitored, would have enabled the Integrity Commission to act.
The CEO also gave evidence that he could not recall this power being used. Nor has the power of the Commission to call public hearings ever been used. Again this, in our view, demonstrates a Commission with sufficient powers but insufficient will to exercise them. This makes the Commission look regrettably timid.
Evidence given at the Commission of Inquiry also paints a picture of a Commission far more comfortable with placing an emphasis on its educative role than its role in handling complaints of serious misconduct.
This is also reflected in the Integrity Commission’s recent public promotion of their work.
We have observed a significant recent focus of the Commission in public promotion of its educative program. We believe this is in response to growing public criticism of its timidity.
We are disappointed the Commission has failed to accept public criticism, and in our view the entity’s consistent failure, to accept the many mistakes made in relation to the Launceston General Hospital complaint canvassed by the Commission of Inquiry, is unacceptable.
The Board, CEO, and Chief Commissioner need to seriously reflect on the fact that increasing criticism of the Integrity Commission is not based on public misconception about their actions, their Act, or their role, as they seem to believe.
The Commission is quite simply failing to exercise their powers in the manner Tasmanians expect them to. The mounting criticism of them is legitimate, and they need to accept and address it.
This expectation also needs to be pressed on them by the Joint Standing Committee on Integrity, on which the Greens are unfortunately not represented, and of which the majority membership is Government and Opposition Members.
The Integrity Commission, quite simply, needs to be braver to better serve the Tasmanian community.
Cassy O’Connor MHA
Leader of the Tasmanian Greens