Chapter 3 - Integrity and ethics

The effectiveness of the Australian Public Service (APS) fundamentally depends on public trust in its integrity as an institution and its capacity to look after the public interest rather than its own. A values-based culture is at the heart of a high-performing and trustworthy public service. A culture in which employees are expected and encouraged to act ethically, in which ethical behaviour is modelled for them by their leaders and peers, and in which each aspect of their work is compatible with the APS Values, is one in which the public can have confidence.

The international reputation of Australia's public sector is currently high. Australia is ranked equal seventh best in the world on a spectrum of least-to-most corrupt by Transparency International in its 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index (an improvement on the 2011 ranking of equal eighth1).

Service-wide data shows that the level of serious misconduct in the APS remains low, and suggests the ethical culture overall is sound. Nevertheless, 2012–13 saw serious allegations of criminal conspiracy involving members of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS).

The events in the ACBPS are a reminder that the risks to the integrity of the APS are real and cannot be ignored. Even a single case of serious fraud or misconduct has the capacity to undermine confidence in public institutions. These events tell the APS that it is crucial to pay attention to ethical culture, and while the vast majority of APS employees do not engage in deliberate misconduct, the ethical health of the service overall depends upon its commitment and capacity to do the right thing. The new APS Values and Employment Principles provide an opportunity for agencies to reinforce a culture of ethical awareness and integrity across the APS when embedding them into work.

This year saw fundamental changes to the ethics infrastructure governing the APS. In addition to amendments to the Public Service Act 1999 (Public Service Act), the APS Values were revised, a set of APS Employment Principles developed, new Public Interest Disclosure legislation was passed, and the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 was passed. These changes aim to strengthen the integrity, accountability and the performance of the APS.

This chapter describes recent changes to the ethics infrastructure governing the APS and uses data collected from APS employees, agencies and other sources to report on the extent to which APS employees are operating in accordance with the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct.


1 These indices measure levels of corruption not only in the APS but in the wider Commonwealth and state and territory public sectors.