These issues were largely related to the AFP's handling of category 1 and 2 matters, which involve less serious action and are generally dealt with at the local level. However, we concluded that the AFP's handling of category 3 and 4 complaints, alleging serious misconduct or corruption, was comprehensive and accurate. An AFP practice issue relates to concerns about the practices and procedures of the AFP.
In accordance with s 40RD of the Act, the Commissioner established AFP Professional Standards (PRS), a unit within the AFP that investigates Category 3 conduct issues and corruption issues1 involving AFP appointments. Based on the results of our reviews, we may make recommendations and/or suggestions to the AFP regarding its administrative practices. Did the AFP notify our office of all category 3 conduct issues raised during the inspection period.
In addition to the provisions of Part V, ss 38 and 39 of the Act require the VET to comply with any order made by the VET Commissioner. The VET Commissioner for Professional Standards Order (CO2), which sets out the VET professional standards and the Code of Conduct. To ensure procedural fairness, the Ombudsman provides the AFP with a copy of this report for comment before tabling it in Parliament under s 40XD of the Act.
We also comment on what we understand of the AFP's policies and procedures that support the administration of Part V of the Act, based on information available during the review.
R EVIEW DETAILS
P ROGRESS SINCE PREVIOUS REPORT
Section 40TA of the Act states that the Commissioner must, so far as is practicable, ensure that the complainant is informed of any action taken by the AFP in relation to a matter of conduct. The best practice guide states that when a complaint investigation has been completed, the complainant should be told the details of the investigation, including any findings or decisions made. Our 2017-18 Annual Report noted that the level of detail provided to complainants in outcome letters had improved and advised that we would monitor the reasons given to complainants, particularly members of the public who may be .
The AFP uses its practice register to comply with the requirements under s 40TX(2) of the Act which states that where an AFP practice issue is present in a complaint, or is brought to the attention of an AFP appointee through of a category 1 or 2 conduct issue or in a 40TU report,4 the Commissioner must ensure that appropriate steps are taken to deal with the issue. Of these, in 10 cases we were not satisfied that the AFP had taken appropriate steps to respond to the practice issues identified. 4 Section 40TU of the Act requires that, on completion by the AFP of a Category 3 or corruption investigation, the AFP must prepare a written report detailing the results of the investigation.
Section 40TA of the Act states that the Commissioner must, as far as practicable, ensure that the complainant is informed as often as is reasonable and to the extent that is reasonable of the AFP's progress in dealing with a conduct or practice issue . The complainant must also be notified of any action the AFP takes in relation to the issue. The Better Practice Guide states that when a complaint investigation is completed, the complainant must be notified of the details of the investigation, including any findings or decision reached.
Under s 40TH(1)(a)(i) of the Act, an investigator must ensure that the AFP appointee has an adequate opportunity to be heard in relation to the conduct matter. Under the CMT SOP, as part of the investigation, investigators must identify relevant witnesses and attempt to contact them. Our 2017-18 annual report contained three instances where the AFP did not keep any records that would enable us to be satisfied that the statutory requirements for conducting investigations were met.
We suggested that the AFP remind its investigators of the importance of keeping contemporaneous records to demonstrate this. Under Section 40RK(7) of the Act, the Category to which a complaint is assigned may change once more information is received about the conduct. These procedures state that an investigator may only inform the complainant that he will present the final report to the CMT quorum (a three-member panel of senior CMT members), who will decide whether to approve or not their recommended findings and notify the complainant of the outcome in writing.
H ISTORICAL C ONTEXT
R ESULTS OF THE J UNE 2020 REVIEW
We are also concerned that the AFP's adherence to internal time-limit standards for Category 1 and 2 complaints remains low. A focus of the October 2019 ad hoc review was to gain a deeper understanding of how the AFP intends to address this performance. The performance of the VET in dealing with conduct matters accurately and according to the appropriate procedure.
The Commissioner has delegated this power to specific positions within the AFP according to the category of complaint. 2018-19 Recommendation: The AFP provides targeted training to investigators and decision makers to ensure their conflict of interest obligations are. We will monitor the AFP's progress on this recommendation at our next review in April 2021.
However, in the absence of a record of this, we were unable to determine that the AFP explained the process to the complainants. In its response to our findings, the AFP noted that in one case the complainant did not respond to multiple attempts at telephone contact and officers were not given the opportunity to provide an explanation of the complaint process. Providing a full explanation of the outcome to a complainant improves the transparency of the investigation process and demonstrates the actions taken by the AFP in investigating the complaint.
In response to our findings, the AFP noted that the last case was an isolated case and did not reflect current processes. 2018–19 recommendation: The AFP provides appropriate guidance, training and support to staff to ensure that the communication requirements set out under s 40TA(2) of the Act and paragraph 4.1 of the Better Practice Guide for Complaint Management are delivered consistently. The AFP advised that, in relation to this fourth instance, the possible interview was a consideration, not a requirement of the investigation.
The Commissioner has delegated this power to specific positions within the AFP according to the category of complaint. Following the review, the AFP advised that the complaint had been withdrawn and the reference to a decision under s 40TF was incorrect. Only authorized AFP appointees may dispose of a complaint from CRAMS in accordance with Schedule 1 of the AFP Commissioner's Order on Professional Standards.
We are pleased that the AFP notified our Category 3 Office of the conduct issues raised during the review period. The AFP advised that it had not conducted any ministry-led investigations during the review period.
- How has the AFP performed against its internal timeliness benchmarks?
- Were Category 1 and 2 conduct issues dealt with accurately and according to the correct procedure?
- Were Category 3 conduct issues and corruption issues (Category 4) dealt with appropriately?
- Were AFP practices issues dealt with appropriately?
- Were complaints appropriately withdrawn?
- Were complaints appropriately deleted from the AFP’s Complaints Records and Management System (CRAMS)?
- Did the AFP notify the Ombudsman of all Category 3 conduct issues raised during the period?
The Complaints Manager recorded considerations of conflicts of interest and any or actual conflicts of interest were appropriately managed (PRS Conflict of Interest Disclosure Flowchart: Ombudsman Annual Report 2014-2015, Section 3.2.1). Where applicable, the AFP has acknowledged the complaint and explained the complaint procedure to the complainant (Section 4.1 Better Practice Guide, AFP Internal Guidance Documents for Complaint Managers). The complainant was informed of the progress of the complaint as often as was reasonable, and as reasonable in the circumstances (ss 40TA(2) and 40TA(3)).
The Complaints Manager identified relevant witnesses and attempted to contact them and carried out appropriate independent investigations (AFP Internal Guidance Documents for Complaints Managers). The Appeals Officer has determined what action, if any, should be taken in relation to 40TI or 40TJ in relation to the conduct found (s 40TH(1)(c)). The Complaints Manager considered whether the complaint or information obtained during the conduct issue raised an AFP practice issue (s 40TH(1)(d)(i) and (ii)) and, if so, initiated a practice issue which addressed to the relevant AFP representative (s 40TK(2)).
The AFP advised the complainant of the outcome(s) of the complaint investigation and provided reasons for the outcome(s) (s 40TA(2)(b) of Part V and paragraph 4.5 of the Best Practice Guide). The record of the complaint contained all the relevant information referred to in the investigation report and details of the action taken during the investigation (ss 40WA(1) and (2)). The category to which the conduct falls may change once more information is received about the complaint (s 40RK(7)).
Where applicable, the AFP acknowledged the complaint and explained the complaint procedure to the complainant (Section 4.1 Better Practice Guide). The complainant was kept informed of the progress of the complaint as often as was reasonable and reasonable in the circumstances (ss 40TA(2) and (3)). The investigator has obtained sufficient evidence during the course of the investigation (internal AFP guidelines for investigators).
The investigator prepared a written report of the investigation and submitted it to the MPRS (ss 40TU(1)). The AFP notified the complainant of the outcome of the complaint investigation and provided reasons for the outcome (s 40TA(2)(b) and paragraph 4.5 of the Better Practice Guide). Therefore, our main consideration in assessing this criterion is that the record as a whole indicates that the complainant requested the withdrawal of the complaint either verbally or in writing, before the complaint was withdrawn by the AFP.