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Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity - 19/06/2014 - Jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity

CALE, Ms Lee. Acting First Assistant Secretary, Governance Division, Department of Agriculture

GRIMES, Dr Paul, Secretary, Department of Agriculture

HUNTER, Mr Colin, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Compliance Division, Department of Agriculture

TUCKER, Mr Mark, Deputy Secretary, Department of Agriculture

[17:50]

CHAIR: Welcome. You have lodged a submission with the committee, submission No.4. Would you like to make any amendments or additions to that submission? I invite you to make a brief opening statement and the committee will ask you questions.

Dr Grimes : We would not want to provide anything further to our submission but I would be happy to make a short opening statement, if that would assist the committee.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Dr Grimes : The Department of Agriculture certainly welcomes the opportunity to attend the public hearing today. We have provided a written submission, as you noted just a moment ago, addressing the terms of reference applicable to the Department of Agriculture. In essence, our submission outlines key issues which would be relevant to any consideration of an expansion in the commission's jurisdiction. Ultimately, we recognise that this would be a matter for ministers and the government to determined. However, at the outset I would like to say that the department has had a positive experience since our cargo inspection functions commenced within ACLEI's jurisdiction on 1 July 2013. Indeed, our experience has been one of an open and constructive relationship with the Integrity Commissioner and his staff. We have certainly welcomed ACLEI's involvement with us. It has been of assistance to us.

The Department of Agriculture is not formally designated as a law enforcement agency; that is, the department is not a heads of Commonwealth operational law enforcement agency. Indeed, many of our functions are those of an ordinary department of state. We provide policy advice, we undertake policy analysis, we administer programs and undertake regulatory functions. ACLEI's coverage, as the committee is aware, is currently limited to approximately 1,000 prescribed staff whose waterfront related regulatory functions or work locations have been assessed as posing the highest corruption risk within the department. The inclusion of these staff was on the basis that these officers either work within a relatively high-risk environment—the waterfront or the cargo environment—or they make decisions or have access to information about proposed importations. Since commencing within ACLEI's jurisdiction on 1 July 2013, the department has received eight allegations of suspected corrupt behaviour by staff or allegations the department has to treated cautiously as corruption matters.

I would emphasise that we take quite a cautious approach to these matters and investigate matters as possible corruption issues even when it might be arguable that they are not in fact matters involving potential corruption. We think it is better to err on the side of caution rather than to allow any doubt to remain. Five of the eight allegations were determined to be within ACLEI's jurisdiction and they were notified to the Integrity Commissioner. Three of these matters have now closed with no corrupt behaviour detected. The remaining two matters are still under investigation, noting that one of those matters is in fact self-referred by the staff member concerned.

Three of the eight allegations were determined not to be within ACLEI's jurisdiction. Two of these matters have been investigated and closed with no corrupt behaviour detected. The remaining matter has been referred to the Australian Federal Police and is currently under investigation. Obviously, any allegations will be taken very seriously, ensuring that they will be properly investigated and followed up. The department certainly seeks to promote a positive anticorruption culture and has a fully integrated integrity framework which covers all staff.

I am joined this afternoon by Mr Mark Tucker, who is the deputy secretary with the responsibility for security and integrity within the department and Mr Colin Hunter, who has responsibility for our compliance division. That oversees much of our operational biosecurity functions and has a broader compliance role within the department. Ms Lee Cale is acting First Assistant Secretary of our governance division, which has responsibility among other things for investigating any matters relating to staff fraud and corruption, in conjunction with ACLEI or the Australian Federal Police.

So, importantly we maintain structural separation so that matters relating to staff fraud and corruption are handled by Ms Cale's division, rather than investigated within operational divisions. We would certainly be very happy to answer any questions that the committee might have this afternoon.

Mr HAYES: Could we have a brief outline of your internal integrity regime and professional conduct applications?

Dr Grimes : Mr Tucker may be in the best place to outline that arrangement.

Mr Tucker : Thank you. We have, obviously, arrangements that we put in place in terms of prevention. So any on-boarding staff that come through have to have police checks and necessary security clearances to do their job. We also have chief executive instructions for people's reporting requirements. We have mandatory learning policies that people must complete as staff members and which they must complete on a regular basis. We have had a security week where we had the Integrity Commissioner and representatives of other law enforcement agencies come and speak to all of our staff. So we have a very high awareness, training and, essentially, policies and procedures arrangements. There is a whole list which I will not read through, but will just say that we have a number.

I also chair the security executive for the department. After every meeting we report on the key matters that we talk about in general terms. Obviously, we do not go into specifics of allegations or investigations that are currently underway. In doing so, we do report, on occasion, when a staff member has been found guilty or has been prosecuted in any other matter so that people do understand within the department that people who do this do get caught and that there are consequences.

Mr HAYES: And from that: your interaction with ACLEI has been positive in those designated areas?

Mr Tucker : It is, yes.

Mr HAYES: And it has led to the interaction with the rest of the staff about the importance of an integrity regime?

Mr Tucker : Certainly, and reinforced it. We had good relationships previously with other law enforcement agencies, such as the AFP and some of the state policing arrangements, where we have officers in those states. So we did have very good connections with those law enforcement agencies. But, certainly, coming under the ACLEI jurisdiction reinforced those anticorruption activities that we are undertaking.

Mr HAYES: Fortunately, you had the opportunity to listen to the evidence of the Commissioner of ACLEI: what is your view about what was said from a departmental perspective?

Dr Grimes : Effectively, the commissioner was touching on some of the matters that were in our submission. Ultimately, our submission points out that there is a judgement to be made here about relative costs and benefits. The commissioner was putting the view, as I understood it, around the boundary question—where do you actually establish the boundary of jurisdiction? We have acknowledged that that is an issue in our submission. Where do you draw the boundary? Ultimately, you draw the boundary where I think the benefits outweigh the costs.

Mr HAYES: I understand that and that is a matter for government to work on—or the minister. But I gather from the general thrust of the evidence given that he thought it was appropriate that they consider expanding the role of ACLEI into the department as a whole?

Dr Grimes : We think it is a legitimate question to be asked. I think it would be pre-empting the work that needs to be done through the risk assessment and the review. I certainly would not put a view of saying that there would be opposition to undertaking that approach if the benefits were determined to be sufficient to outweigh any costs in going in that direction. It is true that our submission probably points more to a targeted approach, rather than a blanket approach. But ultimately the question is: do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Mr ZAPPIA: Thank you for your presentation. I have a couple of questions. You mentioned eight allegations of corruption that you currently have under investigation. Whilst I have no doubt that you really do not know where any of them might lead to, on the surface would they be what I would refer to as 'relatively minor' allegations or are they serious?

Dr Grimes : I really find it difficult to answer that question, maybe in the terms that you are seeking. The reason for it is that we consider any allegations in this area to be serious and I just feel that it can be something that can be difficult to describe—a matter that we would still consider to be quite serious as being somehow relatively serious.

Mr ZAPPIA: With all due respect, I think we all know what a serious matter is from a minor matter. But if you do not want to answer it and if you want to beat around the bush, so to speak, that is your prerogative.

Dr Grimes : No. I would prefer not to beat around the bush. I was going to say that if the committee wanted to consider some matters more in camera rather than in an open hearing that may be more appropriate. We would be able to provide more briefing to the committee in camera that might give you a sense of where they would be on the spectrum of what you would consider to be very serious or perhaps less serious.

Mr ZAPPIA: My other question is that if you are aware of an issue that is of concern to you, what general guidelines do you use as to when you decide that you may refer the matter to ACLEI or to the commissioner? Or, for that matter, even to the AFP?

Dr Grimes : My basic mode of operation is that wherever an issue is raised, to raise it with the commissioner at the first available opportunity—irrespective of whether we might think that it is going to be serious or perhaps less serious, we would refer it to the commissioner. I think it is much better to have an approach that is very cautious and that does not take a risk that anything could fall between the cracks.

Mr ZAPPIA: Okay, thanks.

CHAIR: In relation to Mr Zappia's previous question: you can answer anything in camera if you like. It is up to you whether you want to go in camera—

Dr Grimes : The offer would be there for the committee, if it wanted to explore more in each of those cases. We would be able to talk about the cases, but I do not think it would be appropriate to do that in the public hearing.

Mr ZAPPIA: I appreciate that. I thought, perhaps, if time permits that I would like to hear a little bit more about the types of cases that you have. I do not want the detail of who and why; I just want to know the types of cases—

Dr Grimes : These would be more cases involving individuals. As I indicated, when we followed up most of those cases there was not a corruption issue at all.

Senator PARRY: Dr Grimes, just in reading your submission and listening to your answers now: if we just put aside finance for the moment, what you are saying—forgetting cost—is that it is more desirable to have ACLEI responsible for the entire Department of Agriculture rather than the limited scope it currently has. Is that what you are saying?

Dr Grimes : No. Ultimately, I do not think you can divorce yourself from the cost question. I think that is relevant—

Senator PARRY: It is relevant if it is going to cost you money, but if you take the cost out of it, just for the purposes of my discussion, there is no other obstacle that would prevent ACLEI having this jurisdiction and it would probably be more desirable because you are going to capture the entire department, at least, without any degree of equivocation around the boundaries?

Dr Grimes : No. Again, I think that these are matters that need to be considered properly by the government. I think it is appropriate for us to set out the range of considerations that would be there. I think the questions around where you establish the boundaries are legitimate questions to look at and to consider. I recognise that that could take you to the full coverage of the department. But I would not want to pre-empt proper consideration of those by answering in those terms.

Senator PARRY: I am not dismissing cost as a non-issue. I am just trying to exclude it for the purposes of working out where we are. Okay, let's leave cost in: what about the boundaries? Where would you see that the boundaries are? And what obstacle is there in having the entire department—

Dr Grimes : Again, I just feel that cost is a relevant consideration. For the government, of course, it will also be the resources that ACLEI has and how it deploys its resources most effectively.

I think the issues would be, really, the matters that the commissioner was referring to at the point where you have a significant issue around the boundary. If there is a case that there is a significant issue around that boundary then I think there is a case to expand jurisdiction. Whether that takes you to the entire department, bearing in mind that we have officers who are well removed from these operational areas—whether that takes you to having to go to that full extent to deal with the boundary question—I really do think is open for further consideration.

Senator PARRY: Can you give me an example of a well-removed officer? What would you—

Dr Grimes : A policy officer in Canberra, working on agricultural policy matters, has absolutely nothing to do with our biosecurity administrative functions, processing of cargo and other matters at the border.

Senator PARRY: Could the same be said about an AFP officer? The entire Australian Federal Police department is subject to ACLEI, and someone sitting in an office in headquarters here writing policy—

Dr Grimes : I would not want to comment on the AFP. I think I can only comment in relation to our department.

Senator PARRY: They would be similar issues.

Mr Tucker : I do not know the answer to that, but I do know, for example, that the officer—or with the example that the secretary has given—has no access to any of the systems that our border staff would have. Certainly, in our case, that person just has the normal public service desk top as their working environment.

Senator PARRY: Could be devising policy about how those issues take place, and that could have a serious impact, a little chink in the armour.

Dr Grimes : Then the question is a member of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet might be providing advice on policy. Are going to be benefits in extending, where do you draw the overall contract?

Senator PARRY: There are some people who are asking for a whole of government consideration of ACLEI and its jurisdiction, so that is a valid point. We are not excluding the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet either, but the focus obviously is the entire department versus a portion of the department. That is our focus in this inquiry.

Dr Grimes : And I think these are legitimate questions and certainly legitimate questions for the committee to consider. Again, we would say that it would be a matter for the government to determine relative costs and benefits. Our submission probably points more to a targeted approach but we would certainly agree that you have to have a proper full consideration here and you need to consider the boundary issues, including the boundary issues that were raised by the commissioner.

Senator PARRY: I note that you mentioned in your submission, to paraphrase, that you do not want to see the little rats and mice issues being elevated if ACLEI had jurisdiction over the entire department, which I certainly concur with. Are you familiar with the Australian Federal Police model where there is a gradient of offences that have to be reported to the commissioner and the rest can be managed internally by the department?

Dr Grimes : No, I am not familiar with the details of the AFP model. As I said, at the moment I have no problems in alerting the commissioner to matters within the department to make sure that he has full visibility of the range of matters that we are managing within the department. In a sense that is providing some of the checks and balances around that boundary question. I think there is benefit in having something very simple in referring matters to the commissioner and alerting the commissioner to matters rather than trying to have a graduated system where we try to put it through some algorithm and then determine how it will be handled.

Senator PARRY: It has not quite that complex but there is a gradient that could be applied. If we did that, that then would be a way of reducing cost, and cost is a consideration, as we have discussed, by only having the very serious matters of corruption referred through to the commissioner.

Dr Grimes : I think this is where the question was asked previously. I understand trying to get to a sense of are we dealing with large-scale, major corruption on a wide front. We are not a department that is dealing with that; we have not seen that to date. So does it require us to have graduated systems of that sort? As I indicated, taking a very cautious approach, a very conservative approach of referring anything that we became aware of to the commissioner, we have had eight matters over the last year. Of those, the majority have been found not to be corruption issues and one or two where investigations are continuing.

Senator PARRY: I will leave it there.

Senator EDWARDS: Essentially a lot of thunder has been stolen. I was obviously interested in response. You heard the evidence of the commissioner and I have just heard the department's position on that, which is my interest, so largely it has been covered.

Mr Tucker : Perhaps I can add one more thing on Senator Parry's question. We have extremely good relationships with the AFP, for example in areas of inappropriate behaviour such as fraud. If there are allegations of fraud we work extremely closely with the AFP and the fraud team that we have will do that almost on a daily basis when something comes up. So they are quite familiar with the frameworks the AFP would be using and those dialogues are very close between us, as they are with ACLEI and other law enforcement agencies.

Senator EDWARDS: Perhaps there is one question. How is it that you assess the risks in your system in your department as to where you believe you are most vulnerable for an incursion of dishonesty and criminal activity?

Dr Grimes : We think our higher risks are on the importation side of our business. The export side is perhaps less inherently risky because there are so many checks and balances in the system, including checks that would be undertaken overseas when Australian material was exported. If you were to have a break in our system here it can be detected overseas, so there are checks and balances. Those checks and balances are not there to the same extent on the import side of the business.

Senator EDWARDS: But there was an issue with the grey market, with seafood, you know: it was going out and it was going to a destination, then it was been proliferated from Hong Kong in that case. So there are relationships here and there are relationships there. How do you—

Dr Grimes : These are matters that generally would not—you are perhaps referring to commercial matters that would not be matters where departmental offices would have any involvement.

Mr Tucker : Perhaps I could answer your question another way, Senator. In relation to the matters covered by this committee, and if we go to the issue of corruption, as we have said in our submission we are currently conducting a corruption risk assessment. We are coming to the final stages of that, and that will then turn into a corruption control plan. It is similar with fraud: we do a fraud risk assessment and that turns into a fraud control plan. We will work through those matters—standards are set down, how those things work—and, again, we will work very closely with the relevant agencies in terms of those processes to make sure we meet those standards and have products that come up to the expectations of a department of state.

Senator EDWARDS: Right. And is that a one-off initiative or is it conducted very three years?

Mr Tucker : I believe they are done annually.

CHAIR: In your submission you said you are currently going through a corruption risk assessment. What would be the time frame for that to be completed?

Dr Grimes : We will be completing that in a matter of weeks. In the next month or so, we should have that completed. And as the commissioner said, that is going to be part of further consideration about the jurisdiction of ACLEI itself.

Proceedings suspended from 18:12 to 18:28

CHAIR: We will go back to the public hearing. Are there any other statements you would like to make?

Dr Grimes : No, Chair, I do not have a further statement to make.

CHAIR: We thank you for your time and assistance.

Committee adjourned at 18:28