The Australian Federal Police has launched a new command centre within their Canberra headquarters on Thursday aimed at targeting the deluge of Commonwealth corruption cases reported every month.
The establishment of the Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre comes after revelations more than 100 allegations of crime, corruption or serious incompetence by Commonwealth government officials have been reported each month under new whistle-blower protection laws.
AFP officers within the newly launched centre will now work closely with officials from numerous government agencies including the Australian Tax Office, Customs, Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to address numerous complaints.
Minister for Justice Michael Keenan said the new centre marked a new era in the approach to dealing with fraud and corruption at a federal level.
During the first six months under the protection laws, more than 380 “disclosures” were submitted and another 288 people were told their accusations did not fit the criteria for investigation under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman's office said it has also taken another 250 calls on its Public Interest Disclosure hotline.
The whistleblower protection laws give legal protection to officials who report malpractice within the Australian Public Service, Commonwealth authorities, Defence Force, parliamentary departments and government contractors.
Despite this assurance, many bureaucrats remain unclear on how well the new laws are working in practice.
On Tuesday, Senior Ombudsman's Office official George Masri told a gathering of public servants in Canberra he believed departments "wanted to do the right thing" in protecting whistle-blowers from reprisal and protect their identities.
Under the command of the Australian Federal Police, the Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre will classify complaints before referring the instances for investigation in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne or Adelaide.
Mr Keenan said partner agencies will work to prioritise the most effective and appropriate investigative response to allegations of fraud and corruption matters.
“This will ensure that serious fraud and anti-corruption issues are dealt with in the most effective manner,” he said.
It is believed the centre will be staffed by 10 permanent Australian Federal Police officers with a further 13 staff assigned to the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Services.
Staff from the Australian Crime Commission and Customs will also be allocated to the new centre.
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