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Private investigators to probe public service

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UPDATED: The State Government is setting up a permanent team of private investigators to conduct inquiries of “any nature” at the request of public sector departments – but says it isn’t aimed at hunting down leaks.

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Treasurer Rob Lucas said in a written statement to Parliament on Tuesday that the Government was establishing a panel of external investigators who would be “suitably qualified to undertake investigations of any nature at an agency’s request”.

He said the hiring process was currently underway, with the panel expected to be in force as early as July.

The panel is an initiative of Public Sector Employment Commissioner Erma Ranieri, who has described it as a “modern version” of the now-defunct investigations unit that used to sit within her office and the Crown Solicitor’s office.

According to Lucas, it will be up to department chief executives to determine whether to call upon the private investigators to conduct inquiries.

“The circumstances of any investigation in which an agency chooses to engage an external investigation will be determined by that agency’s chief executive or delegate,” he said.

It comes after Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure chief executive Tony Braxton-Smith revealed in June that he had launched an investigation into the source of several email leaks about the sanctioning of senior bureaucrat Ray Partridge.

The information contained in the emails was brought to public light through InDaily’s reporting.

“As you’d be aware, improper use of government assets and information systems would trigger an investigation – and that investigation has been triggered,” Braxton-Smith said at the time.

Braxton-Smith has not revealed who conducted the inquiry but said the department had notified the Office of Public Integrity and sought advice from the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

In response to a question by Greens MLC Tammy Franks, Lucas told Parliament that Ranieri was “not consolidating a process to investigate public sector leaks”, rather, the panel would conduct investigations of “any nature”.

Ranieri told a parliamentary committee in March that the panel would be “regularly used and of a standard”.

“Back in the day, there used to be an actual investigations unit and I believe it has varied between sitting in the Crown and my office, a long time ago,” she said.

“Now, I think the modern version of that is that I would like to set up a panel of providers who meet a certain standard, who are licensed to actually do it and who agencies can basically grab without having to procure themselves.”

Lucas told InDaily that the engagement of an external investigator to look into suspected breaches of the public sector’s code of ethics was “not unusual” and “entirely appropriate and consistent with existing practice, including under the former Labor Government”.

“I am advised by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment that the panel of investigators is being established to allow agencies to easily access the required skills to ensure that all workplace investigations are undertaken in a consistent and timely manner across the sector,” he said.

“Each agency which engages a member of the panel will be expected to meet the costs of that from their existing budget.”

He said that the outcome of the procurement process would determine the number of investigators to be appointed to the panel.

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