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ILL HEALTH: ICAC and Govt tensions escalate over missing 'millions' in SA Health


A full anti-corruption evaluation of SA Health could save taxpayers millions of dollars, says Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander, prompting Treasurer Rob Lucas to question the ICAC’s record.

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The State Government has refused to give Lander the $2 million he says he needs to evaluate South Australia’s biggest department, which the Commissioner says is riddled with maladministration and likely to house corruption.

In an interview with InDaily, Lander argued that the return to taxpayers would be significant if the Government gave him the resources to carry out the investigation.

However, he reiterated his view – first put to the Government more than a year ago – that he did not have the resources to do such a “massive undertaking”.

While Treasurer Rob Lucas has pointed to a $14 million increase in the ICAC budget over the next four years, Lander says more than half of that funding will go towards establishing facilities for public hearings and other infrastructure, while the remainder will be used to cover new responsibilities handed to his office by the Government.

“The forward estimates take into account now that we have responsibility for the Police Complaints Act,” Lander said. “It also takes into account that we have responsibility for the Public Interest Disclosure Act … they formed some of the submissions for the budget for the forward estimates.

“(The funds are) not sufficient … for us to carry out an evaluation of Health. That was the reason I approached the Treasurer for more resources. They’re just not sufficient.”

Lucas responded in pointed fashion today, demanding that Lander explain why his work on SA Health had not yet sparked any prosecutions.

Referring to reports that the Office of Public Integrity had received 1000 complaints about SA Health, the Treasurer said the Commissioner should explain why there hadn’t been any resulting prosecutions.

“I think he has to explain publicly why that’s the case,” Lucas told InDaily. “I think it’s an important point. What’s happened to those 1000?”

When it was put to Lucas that the Commissioner had said publicly he believed he was being stymied by a lack of record-keeping in SA Health, the Treasurer said Lander could compel witnesses to appear before him and explain themselves.

“He has all of the powers in the world to require answers to questions,” he said.

He said he was “strongly” of the view that the ICAC had sufficient resources to properly investigate all cases of corruption and maladministration that came before him.

The ICAC is an investigative rather than prosecutorial body, which gathers evidence which it may present to the Director of Public Prosecutions who decides whether or not to proceed with a prosecution.

On the broader issue, Lucas said the Government already knew that there was a maladministration problem in SA Health which was costing the taxpayer millions of dollars, and he did not need another investigation “to tell us what we already know”.

Lucas said Lander himself had asked for funds to build specialist hearing rooms, while the Government would prefer him to use existing facilities.

The Treasurer also claimed Lander had underspent his budget last year by a “six-figure” sum and he had granted him permission to roll over those funds into this year’s budget.

Lander pointed to his office’s evaluation of SafeWork SA last year, which took two full-time staff about eight months to complete.

SA Health is orders of magnitude larger than SafeWork SA, with about 40,000 employees, compared to SafeWork’s 200.

“To take on the whole of SA Health is a massive job,” he said.

Asked whether there would be a return for taxpayers on the $2 million cost of the evaluation, Lander said “we’d hope so”.

“We think these practices are costing SA Health money,” he said, adding that the wastage was substantial – likely in the “millions” of dollars.

READ MORE: Corruption prosecutions against SA Health clinicians ‘thwarted’

However, he said that without the requested funding, undertaking such an evaluation would require him to cease all other corruption investigations.

“We just could not carry out an evaluation at the moment that would be meaningful, because the impact on the Office (of Public Integrity) would be such that we’d have to put aside our corruption investigations. And that’s just not possible,” he said.

“What I know now is I would have asked for more (money for the evaluation). It ($2 million) is not a lot, I don’t think.”

He said, ideally, he would investigate every part of SA Health, but that practically such an evaluation would have to be limited to the bureaucracy, the Central Adelaide Local Health Network – which runs the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth hospital – and perhaps another LHN, such at the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network.

Lander investigated the Oakden older person’s mental health facility, run by NALHN, last year.

The State Government has a track record in paying out in order to save money in the health system.

It is paying advisory firm KordaMentha more than $20 million to oversee the Central Adelaide Local Health Network  – which runs the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital – as part of a plan to save $276 million over three years.

At a parliamentary committee yesterday, SA Health CEO Dr Chris McGowan said SA Health had also appointed consultancy firm PwC “for SALHN (the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network)” and another firm, KPMG “for NALHN”.

Lander says his investigation would run side-by-side with KordaMentha’s work.

“We don’t think we’d be treading on KordaMentha’s toes… I think this would complement what KordaMentha are doing,” he said.

“It sounds like they’re all doing very good work.”

With no sign of the Government providing Lander extra resources for an SA Health evaluation, the Commissioner is planning to produce a report for parliament over the next month, detailing his concerns about the department and what he has learned as a result of numerous investigations over the years.

However, Lander stressed that his report to parliament was no substitute for conducting an evaluation of SA Health.

He said the report would “bring to the to the attention of those who matter that there is a serious problem in SA Health” but that an evaluation would enable his office to consider potential solutions.

“We think that if these matters were … evaluated we could probably make recommendations that would improve the matter.”

In the lead-up to the last state election, then SA Best leader Nick Xenophon promised a royal commission into South Australia’s health system – a policy rejected by both major parties.

ILL HEALTH: InDaily will be publishing a series of investigative articles on the state of SA Health. Go here to follow the series.

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