In July last year it was announced that the Hon. Ann Vanstone QC would be South Australia’s next Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC).
Commissioner Vanstone has served the administration of justice in South Australia for more than 40 years; first as a Crown Prosecutor and defence lawyer, then as a Judge of the District Court of South Australia and Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia.
Upon Commissioner Vanstone’s appointment, the Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said that Vanstone is a “highly respected figure with the expertise to lead”.
Commissioner Vanstone commenced her seven year term as the ICAC on 2 September 2020.
What was it that drew you to the role of Independent Commissioner Against Corruption?
I have always been interested in investigations. It was part of what took me to the Crown Prosecutor’s office in 1979. I enjoyed working with the police who had investigated the matters I prosecuted.
Later I again enjoyed working with investigators when I was Senior Counsel Assisting at the Easton Royal Commission in 1995. And when the ICAC role was established in 2013, I knew it was something I would enjoy. And I do.
What were your first impressions of the ICAC after commencing in the role?
My first impressions were what a well-structured, well run organisation the ICAC is. And how terrifically committed and talented are our people. They really care about what we do. They work hard, and they are acutely aware of the importance of their work and the responsibility they carry.
What have you been surprised by?
The breadth of what we do and the range of our talent has surprised me. I had only the haziest idea of prevention initiatives like evaluations and surveys that we conduct. I now understand how valuable these activities are and have seen the impact they have on integrity in public administration. The positive change that results from these types of initiatives is more widespread than I would have anticipated.
Also, the staff here range from very experienced to early career staff, which I think really benefits the way we approach our work. I probably had not appreciated the breadth of skills and experience that the organisation has and I enjoy receiving the different perspectives that such a multi-disciplinary workforce offers.
What are your thoughts about corruption in public administration?
I think all corruption is harmful because it erodes confidence in public institutions. There is a popular idea that some corruption is less important, perhaps because it is viewed as small or insignificant, but I do not subscribe to that view.
Most corruption starts in a small way. An individual might identify a weakness in a process or system and exploit it. If he or she is successful, then the conduct will usually be repeated. And the amount of money, value or detriment involved will tend to grow over time. Rarely does small corruption stay small, and so the important thing is to get to it early.
Poorly designed systems and processes that lack resilience and give too much autonomy to one person without checks and balances are vulnerable to corruption. That is why our prevention initiatives like the evaluations we carry out are so important.
A huge amount of money is spent on delivering services to South Australians. Integrity agencies like the ICAC make a real difference to the quality and cost effectiveness of those services.
Do you have a message for South Australian public officers?
Our aims and the aims of the vast majority of South Australian public officers are precisely the same: to see a public sector which operates efficiently, effectively, and with integrity.
Public administration must serve the public interest. Public officers who suspect this is not occurring have an obligation to speak up.
The perception may be that it is disloyal or sneaky or counter-productive to report something to the Office for Public Integrity. But it is not. It is a matter of duty. For those public officers who are worried about reporting, there are protections in place for those who do so. I encourage any public officer who suspects inappropriate conduct is occurring in his or her agency, to contact the Office for Public Integrity.
The great majority of public officers in South Australia are doing the right thing. Those who are not should be held accountable.
This article was published in the ICAC's newsletter - Integrity Matters