Reviews, investigations and special inquiries

The Commissioner often receives information about or becomes aware of matters that require some form of monitoring or oversight action by the Commission.

In most circumstances, a Preliminary Assessment of these matters is undertaken to inform what is the most appropriate course of action to take. The Commissioner may refer matters on to other appropriate authorities, examine matters consistent with his broader monitoring function or undertake statutory reviews, investigations or special inquiries for a variety of purposes.

Examination’ is not used or defined in the PSM Act but is the term given to simple monitoring and oversight actions by the Commissioner that do not require or apply specific investigative or review type powers defined in the legislation. An Examination may be needed as part of the preliminary assessment of a matter referred to the PSC to assist in making a decision about the application of more specific powers.

Reviews are generally about the functions, management or operations of one or more public sector bodies and are more likely to be applied to matters that consider organisations, structures, systems policies and processes.

Investigations can be conducted to investigate the activities of any public sector body and are more likely to be initiated in relation to specific actions, activities or questions of conduct.

Special Inquiries can be conducted into matters related to the Public Sector and may address any issue but tend to be reserved for more serious matters where there is a clear and heightened public interest in the issue and in the comprehensiveness and outcome of the inquiry.

Information about reviews and investigations conducted by the Commission is included in the Annual Report and informs coverage in the State of the Sector Report. Find out more about current and past special inquiries.

Diagram illustrating the relationship between the different types of reviews. Click to view a larger version of this image.

Decisions about undertaking reviews, inquiries and investigations

The policy framework surrounding the use of the Commissioner’s specific oversight powers routinely considers the following factors and principles:

Matters should, where appropriate, be managed at the agency level

  • The WA Public Sector operates under a devolved accountability model. While Chief Executive Officers are employed by the Public Sector Commissioner, the PSM Act establishes Chief Executive Officers as having a direct role to manage and direct employees in their department and they are accountable for ensuring compliance with principles of public administration and management, human resource management and conduct.
  • The CEO, as the employing authority for a department’s employees, is the only authority that can take disciplinary action in relation to an employee. Where it is appropriate, the most expeditious way to address misconduct allegations is through a disciplinary investigation or process undertaken using the authority of the employer.

In some circumstances the PSC may need to become involved in matters that would normally be managed by an agency.

  • The general approach taken by the Commissioner is that CEOs, as the employing authority, should be given the opportunity to effectively address allegations or matters of concern that arise within or about the agency in the first instance unless:
  1. there is a reasonable suspicion that very senior officers are personally involved.
  2. the agency does not have the capability to deal with the matter internally. If this circumstance applies, the Commissioner would generally seek to assist the public sector body to deal with the matter under the CEO’s authority rather than take the matter over under his own authority
  3. There is reason to suspect that the matter is of such a serious nature or is the consequence of such widespread mismanagement or systemic failure of management, administration or compliance systems that an specific oversight action is warranted.

In considering the discretion the Commissioner can exercise about action beyond a preliminary assessment, the Commissioner may have regard to the following questions:

  • Is the matter of referral within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner?
  • Are there other oversight agencies that may have more relevant authority or expertise and does the informant have more suitable or satisfactory means of redress eg by the CEO as employing authority or Police, CCC, Ombudsman or Industrial Relations avenues?
  • Has the matter been adequately dealt with or is otherwise being dealt with by the agency or a more appropriate authority?
  • Does the conduct complained of raise a point of principle that has implications for a public sector agencies generally and can be dealt with at a systemic level?
  • Is it a matter related to specific accountability obligation or imperative eg governance, administration or performance?
  • Has the matter of referral or allegation been available and/or adequately addressed under the Public Sector Management (Breaches of Public Sector Standards) Regulations 2005?
  • Is the subject matter of the matter of referral or allegation trivial, misconceived or lacking in substance?
  • Is the matter of referral or allegation vexatious or not in good faith?
  • What is the prospect of a significant outcome?
  • Did the conduct complained of occur at too remote a time to justify investigation?
  • Is action by the PSC in the public interest?
  • Are resources available to investigate the matter?

Any exercise of the significant oversight powers of the Commissioner (review, investigation, or and special inquiry) would entail a preliminary assessment to establish whether a matter is sufficiently significant to warrant such intervention and use of such resources.


Page last updated 2 September 2014