The Northern Territory’s anti-corruption commissioner says the case of a man who falsified Aboriginal identity documents to get a security job exposes flaws in public sector hiring practices.
- NT ICAC has found systemic problems with job screening across the public service
- Ashley Brown has admitted to “making up” Aboriginal identity certificates to get jobs
- Mr Brown said brain dysfunction requiring surgery was one reason for his actions
In his most recent investigation, the NT Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ken Fleming QC and his team have looked into the conduct of Ashley Brown.
The commissioner found Mr Brown created and used two false certificates of Aboriginality to win a security and site manager job at Royal Darwin Hospital.
The salary for the job — a “special measures” position for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants — was advertised with a salary of up to $136,666 a year.
One of the witnesses in the investigation was an unnamed former Indigenous NRL star who said Mr Brown had approached him on Facebook asking if he could help him with his Aboriginal certification.
The NRL star replied: “No this is not something I can assist you with. It’s something your family and community would have to do. That would mean going to the local Aboriginal Land Council in or around Young where local people can actually vouch for you and accept you.”
Mr Brown then decided to forge the NRL star’s signature on one of his certificates, the investigation found.
He also forged the signature of a former land councillor for the Wiradjuri region on the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
The commissioner found Mr Brown also lied about and exaggerated his work experience — he falsely claimed to hold a nursing degree, a security risk certificate and that he had been state coordinator for the Queensland Police Service’s drug and alcohol unit.
Mr Brown used his misleading resume and false certificates to apply for 14 vacancies before he was successful in November 2019, the commissioner found.
He said Mr Brown’s dishonesty in obtaining employment as a public officer was corrupt conduct under the ICAC Act.
The commissioner acknowledged the issue of defining Aboriginality was “complex” but said positions, services and entitlements reserved for Indigenous people should be “protected from fraud and corruption”.
The ICAC’s investigation draws attention to systemic recruitment screening flaws within the NT’s public sector.
The investigation found the Commissioner for Public Employment had failed to give government agencies risk-based employment screening guidelines, found in other jurisdictions.
The report also recommended the NT Health Department require all security staff to undergo criminal history checks to ensure they were suitable for the job.
The commissioner observed that public sector employees who resigned in the middle of disciplinary action against them could find jobs elsewhere in the public sector.
He said there should be a register of all government employees who had been subject to disciplinary proceedings, whether finalised or not, or had dishonestly tried to obtain employment.
‘Brain dysfunction’ a reason given for conduct
In his response to the commissioner’s findings on September 7, Mr Brown said brain cancer medication and surgery had affected his memory.
“Anything I did prior to now was done whilst I suffered brain [dysfunction] from the cancer and cysts on my brain,” Mr Brown said in an email.
A few days later Mr Brown provided a further written response to the commissioner.
“I am not able to remember much as my memory has depleted by 15 [per cent] after the surgery I [had] in March 2020,” Mr Brown said.
In his evidence, Mr Brown admitted he falsified the documents but maintained he was Aboriginal because his grandmother told him a story about this in the 1990s.
“I have always identified since then, been given funding for courses and sports from the Australian Government since then.”
“In the end I was frustrated by the constant refusal of getting one as shown in the evidence I decided to make my own one up.”
The commissioner found Mr Brown’s credibility had been “challenged” during the investigation’s hearings.
“He gave sworn evidence for over two hours before making full and frank admissions to providing misleading information during the examination,” the report said.
The investigation also found Mr Brown breached an ICAC direction not to tell anyone about the investigation into him except a practising lawyer — that conduct carries a maximum two-year prison sentence.
Mr Brown admitted he had sent text messages and spoken to at least five people about the investigation.
The commissioner found Mr Brown knowingly misled the ICAC, which also carries a maximum two-year prison sentence.
Overall, the commissioner said the “special measures” plan devised in 2015 to increase Aboriginal employment in the NT public service had been successful.
He said as of March this year, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees represented 11 per cent of the NT public service.