The NT Independent Commissioner Against Corruption says a major report into improper conduct in the public service could be released in November that would “fill all expectations” the public has placed in the corruption watchdog to investigate Territory bureaucrats.
Commissioner Ken Fleming QC flagged that his office had 50 investigations underway, but highlighted some of the findings would not reach the hands of the public.
“I’m not at liberty to publish things which may impact the reputation of people inappropriately, and nor can I publish things which might lead to a prosecution unless they’re very defined circumstances …,” he told ABC Radio on Friday.
He said his office is currently looking into a number of allegations of systemic corrupt conduct concerning unidentified public servants, and will soon be determining which can be released to the public. A major report could be one of those released.
“And I can assure you that there is a lot of systemic conduct which is not good,” he said.
He added the report due in November “may just fill all of your expectations and longings”.
Mr Fleming said while some of the 50 matters his office is investigating may seem “trivial” to the public, they do in fact help build a case.
“I have a number on my desk at the moment which it will be determined how many of those we can release and how many we can’t,” Mr Fleming said.
“Now people may say ‘Oh, but some of these are trivial’, but you see they also demonstrate systemic conduct on the part of the public service and if the particular case seems trivial in respect of the particular facts, there’s much more behind it because we also have an accumulation of intelligence and reports about similar behaviour.”
In the years since the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption was formally established in late 2018, two public reports have been released. One into former Speaker Kezia Purick which found she engaged in “corrupt conduct” and the other into the Anzac Hill High School Heritage Assessment which found no misconduct.
Postal votes issues raised during Territory election still concerning
Mr Fleming also raised risks to the integrity of future elections on Friday, suggesting a postal system in “disarray” mixed with a lack of oversight of postal ballots could create problems.
Ken Fleming, QC, raised concerns over reports of Territorians driving hundreds of kilometres to deliver postal votes ahead of the 2020 NT election and also highlighted a “lack of security” once the ballots are submitted.
“There is a lack of security after [the postal vote] leaves the hands of the person who has cast the vote,” he said.
“A lady… from one of the pastoral holdings said she was concerned that their posts wouldn’t get back in time, so they actually drove the 400 kilometres into Alice Springs to make sure that they got there.
“There’s another report of postal votes being picked up from various places and being returned to the postal centres – my concern is that there is a risk in that.”
On September 4, Mr Fleming issued a public statement saying he had received 21 reports of alleged improper conduct in relation to the 2020 Territory Election.
Having had time to examine the reports, he has found that more than half did not breach the Electoral Act, but raised serious concerns about the Northern Territory’s postal voting system.
“Postal votes remain a serious issue in this environment,” Mr Fleming said.
“Now, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with what has happened, but when you have seats, for example, Barkly… where postal votes will have an influence… the risk to my mind… is the manner in which postal votes get back to the (Electoral) Commissioner.”
The Northern Territory stands alone as the only jurisdiction in Australia with barely any criteria required to vote in elections via a postal vote and provides 13 days to get the postal vote in after election night, which lead to long counting delays last month.
Territory Labor filed a complaint with the NT Electoral Commission over postal votes allegedly being cast after election night.
The complaint came after the NT Independent first reported that under postal vote rules passed before the 2016 election, the only thing stopping people from sending their postal ballots in after knowing preliminary results is their own conscience.
But Mr Fleming said his concerns centre on a lack of security during the time votes are delivered.
“Now, my concern is that if somebody picks up a vote on behalf of somebody else, and drops it to the Electoral Commissioner there’s a lack of security after it leaves the hands of the person who has cast the vote,” Mr Fleming said.
He said there is no reason to suggest the postal voting system has failed this election, as people are required to sign and date their ballot, but underlined there are risks for the future.
“All of the postal votes need to come back to the Electoral Commissioner and they need to come back in a proper way,” he said.
Earlier this month, NT Electoral Commissioner Iain Loganathan said the 13-day window for postal votes to be returned after an election may be reviewed.