The law enforcement watchdog has seen a substantial increase in corruption notifications related to the Department of Home Affairs over the past year but said it reflected "growing maturity" rather than rampant misconduct.
The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) said it had received 172 notifications of potential corruption with 167 of those relating to bodies under the Department of Home Affairs umbrella, its 2019-20 annual report revealed.
Of the 167 notices, 100 of those fell under "Home Affairs", which includes the Australian Border Force (ABF), with a further 63 relating to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the remaining four for the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).
A corruption notification is issued to the ACLEI by an agency head regarding potential corruption within their workforce. The watchdog then assesses the case and decides whether it warrants an investigation.
The ACLEI cautioned the increase in notifications didn't necessarily indicate a rise in actual corruption, attributing it instead to the department's "growing maturity".
"Overall, we consider that the increase in notifications represents the growing maturity of the department's integrity arrangements," the report read.
"There does not appear to be any substantive change in the areas of Home Affairs in which corruption issues arise. Nor are we investigating an increased number of corruption issues notified by Home Affairs."
The watchdog said it had launched 11 investigations from the full 172 notifications during the year with six of those falling specifically under the "Home Affairs" bracket.
That number was far higher when it came to the total amount of active investigations. While it launched 34 new investigations over the year, it added to the 168 active cases, with Home Affairs being the focus of 105 of them.
The report noted there were two key trends influencing corruption in law enforcement agencies - loyalty to workplace "in-groups" and exploitation of processes for personal benefit because "everyone does it".
The 2019-20 reporting period marks its highest number of corruption notifications since Home Affairs' creation in late 2017 and its highest since 2015-16 under its previous iteration, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
But the watchdog maintained subsequent investigations into those notifications remained relatively stable, which it said indicated there was no cause for concern.
"The relatively low number of corruption issues, which in recent years have been considered significant enough to warrant an ACLEI or joint investigation, also demonstrates that there does not appear to have been an increase in the degree of seriousness of the allegations," the report read.
The agency did not provide details on any active investigations but did confirm it had delivered three final reports to the Attorney-General's office.
One of those related to Operation Valadon, which investigated eight allegations made against former ABF Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg.
Another, Operation Maven, looked at allegations levelled against unknown staff at the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, now the ABF, suggesting they had assisted in the smuggling of illegal drugs.
The final report determined it did not identify any staff members had been involved.
"The reference to 'customs' which raised the suspicion was likely a reference to civilians with knowledge of importing and exporting, such as a customs broker or experienced importer," the report read.
The report's insights come at a time when draft legislation, released by Attorney-General Christian Porter, could see the ACLEI absorbed into a larger Commonwealth Integrity Commission model that would oversee potential corruption within the broader public sector.
The proposed model would see the commission given the ability to subpoena witnesses and documents, issue arrest and search warrants as well as tap phones and use surveillance devices.
A consultation period on the exposure draft is now underway until February 2021 when it's expected to be introduced to Parliament.