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Report into allegations of conflict of interest of an officer at the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board

Public servants Governance Corruption Firefighting Melbourne
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Some cases I have investigated over the years seem so unlikely you could not make them up. Except, as in this case, they did.

The facts of the case are that a senior public official at the Metropolitan Fire Brigade hired her son, not declaring the relationship, having falsified his CV and coached him prior to interview, three weeks after he changed his name to conceal the relationship.

After giving him a pay rise and moving him into a permanent role, she then hired her second son, also falsifying his CV and ‘interviewing’ him at her home after he, too, had changed his name to conceal the relationship. In one form or another the public purse paid out over $400,000 for the services of her two sons.

My office has seen countless examples of nepotism over the years – all of which undermine public confidence in government ensuring it has the best people to do the job – but rarely do they display such calculated behaviour.

All three subjects of this investigation have since left the public service: the senior official resigned on the day of her interview with my officers, and the employment of both sons has been terminated.

Although all three subjects are no longer in the public sector, I am tabling this report to expose both the reality and the danger of such behaviour. Even the most stringent policies cannot prevent what occurred in this case. But while the agency in this case cannot be held responsible for the deception perpetrated upon it, its conflict of interest policies were weak, and did not reflect best practice.

Public sector leaders must ensure they create an environment in which conflict of interest policies are embedded in their organisational culture: this case is yet another reminder of why this matters. The revamp of fire services in Victoria is an opportunity to ensure best practice.

The case also serves as a salient reminder of the importance of disclosers acting on suspicion that something is awry in their workplace. More often than not, as the saying goes, where there is smoke, there is fire.

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