Interview with The World Today – 28 March 2012

Topics: Customs and integrity testing.

ELEANOR HALL: The Home Affairs and Justice Minister, Jason Clare, says he’s putting the final touches to a plan to introduce integrity testing for the Customs Department and other Commonwealth agencies.

The anti-corruption measure is under consideration following concerns that border security officials are assisting organised crime syndicates. The Fairfax papers are reporting that two dozen Customs’ officers are under investigation for corruption or misconduct. The department has suspended or sacked fifteen officers since 2010 for corruption, misconduct and possession of drugs.

Mr Clare told our chief political correspondent, Sabra Lane, that integrity tests would be a useful and important tool in cracking down on organised crime.

JASON CLARE: There is an investigation that’s going on, so I have to be very careful about what I do say publicly.

What I do need to make very clear is that there’s no place for corruption across the public sector – whether it’s Customs or whether it’s the Australian Federal Police or for that matter – the Australian Crime Commission.

We do know that organised criminals target police officers. We’ve seen that in state jurisdictions across the country. They target them because of the nature of the work they do. And there’s always a risk that they’ll target Customs’ officers as well. That’s why we’ve got a corruption watchdog called the Australian Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner.

Their job is to oversight Customs, oversight the Federal Police and oversight the Australian Crime Commission and, where they find corruption, weed it out.

SABRA LANE: A parliamentary committee, last year, recommended that the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity – which does provide that oversight that you just talked about – was given the ability to conduct integrity tests. Are you considering that?

JASON CLARE: Yes, this is one of the things that I’m looking at at the moment. They already have the power to force people to give evidence – coercive powers. They’ve got the power to tap phones. They’ve also got the power to conduct search warrants.

But the next step is having a look at integrity testing – being able to test whether people that are in law enforcement roles like policing or like Customs are acting corruptly or not.

I think it’s an important tool for the Commission to have. It allows everybody that’s in this area – whether they’re police officers or Customs’ officers – to know that there’s a risk that you’re going to be caught.

Psychologically, the impact could be very, very important. People need to know that if you’re willing to take a bribe off a criminal or act in a corrupt way there’s a very real risk that this could be a sting – that the person you’re taking money off could be a police officer and that instead of pocketing the money you’ll end up in jail.

SABRA LANE: How soon are you expecting to make a decision on whether to press ahead with that or not?

JASON CLARE: Well, this is something I’m working on right now. I’m putting the final touches on an integrity testing plan and how it would operate not just for Customs but also for the Federal Police and also for the Australian Crime Commission.

We’ve seen it work in other state jurisdictions – in state jurisdictions across the country. We’ve seen it work overseas and I think it would be another very important tool to crack down on corruption wherever we find it.

I’ve made the point, very clearly, that if the Law Enforcement Commission needs extra power I’ll give it to them, if that’s what it takes to help to weed out inappropriate behaviour.

SABRA LANE: Has the Commission asked for more powers?

JASON CLARE: This is something I’ve been working with the Commissioner on. He’s very much in favour of integrity testing. The Australian Federal Police Commissioner supports it as well, as does Customs. Everybody who works in this space sees the value of targeted integrity testing. It’s just one of the things that I’m looking at to make sure that our law enforcement agencies are even more corruption resistant.

SABRA LANE: What forms could those tests take?

JASON CLARE: Well, they could take a number of different forms. It could involve using things like telephone intercept powers. It could involve setting up an environment where somebody thinks that they’re dealing with a criminal – taking money off a criminal – when, in fact, they’re part of a sting operation, and a police officer is really the person that they’re dealing with.

So it’s designed to make sure that people don’t act inappropriately and, most importantly, don’t act in a corrupt way.

SABRA LANE: Why not have a full inquiry, as suggested by the Opposition?

JASON CLARE: Simply because we already have one. The Australian Law Enforcement Commission is, effectively, a standing, independent inquiry. It’s independent of Government. It acts like ICAC or acts like a police integrity commission. It’s got all of those sorts of powers that you would want in order to make sure that people don’t act corruptly; like coercive powers, like phone tapping powers and like search warrant powers.

SABRA LANE: Is there a cultural problem within Customs and within the AFP?

JASON CLARE: Well I think Customs, the AFP and the Australian Crime Commission – all of these law enforcement agencies – all do a very good job. But I’m not going to rest on my laurels and assume that everything is going to be fine and dandy.

If there are people that are acting inappropriately – and the story that we see in the paper today, where 15 officers in Customs have been suspended for misbehaviour for things as varied as bullying, harassment, possession of illegal drugs or, for that matter, failing to obey a lawful direction or failing to treat a member of the public with respect – when those sort of things come to my attention they tell me that there’s more that needs to be done and I’m prepared to do it.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s the Home Affairs and Justice Minister, Jason Clare, speaking to our chief political correspond, Sabra Lane.

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