WA’s corruption watchdog chief has said his “blood boils” over police failure to pursue criminal charges against public officers, instead opting to deal with the matter in-house.
Giving evidence to a Parliament committee on Wednesday, Commissioner John McKechnie also called for government departments to take more responsibility for addressing internal corruption, to allow the Commission to address more “serious” issues.
“What I would like to see across agencies is a greater recognition of the risk of corruption within their agencies and treating it as a risk like any other risk, like a health and safety risk,” Mr McKechnie said.
Mr McKechnie said “time after time” the CCC would refer a matter to the police who would tell the officer they were going to conduct a criminal investigation.
But he said the public servant would exercise their right not to speak and so police would use discretion not to prosecute and instead pursue the matter “managerially,” which means the officer was now obliged to answer questions as an employee.
“It’s mainly police that use a discretion and it’s a discretion not to prosecute. It makes my blood boil at times but there’s not much I can do about it,” he said.
Mr McKechnie said the officer would face no further criminal consequences, but may face managerial action.
The commissioner also called for WA to adopt a Re-Employment Register, similar to what exists in South Australia, that would allow agencies to check if former public sector employees were eligible to return to the public sector.
Mr McKechnie said it was an “enormous struggle” to find out if someone had been a public officer.
“Sometimes a person resigns after being notified of disciplinary proceedings and the Department says ‘well, that saves us trouble’. Six months later they pop up in another department,” he said.
A register would require a public agency to conclude an investigation even after a person had resigned, Mr McKechnie told the committee.
The commissioner weighed in on the Director of Public Prosecution’s shocking move to drop more than 500 charges against Jacob Anthonisz in 2022 over his alleged role in helping public servant Paul Whyte steal more than $22 million from the Department of Housing.
Mr McKechnie said his suspicion was that those prosecuting Mr Anthonisz thought he would “plead guilty eventually”.
“So, the work that should have been done earlier on wasn’t,” he said.
“In the view of the commission, the police — and perhaps the DPP, but I don’t know — failed in their duty to properly investigate for brief for prosecution.”
Mr McKechnie said the CCC had entered into a cooperative agreement with police earlier on in regards to the Whyte matter, where they would investigate misconduct and the police would investigate crime.
He said the DPP held the view that information flowing between the CCC and police might affect the admissibility of evidence.
The CCC was directed to stop giving information at the end of 2019 and they had no further role in supporting the criminal investigation from the end of 2019.
Mr McKechnie said he did not believe there were “large pockets of corruption” within the police – which accounts for about half of the CCC’s work – but that it keeps him awake at night in case he was wrong.
CCC CEO Emma Johnson told the committee the commission had between 130 and 140 staff and was experiencing a vacancy rate of about 13 per cent.
“I think we do very well with the resources that we have. We probably have less resources to comparably sized jurisdictions and agencies that do similar work to us,” she said.