Behaving ethically is critical in the public sector. Public servants exercise authority on behalf of the Australian Government and manage significant financial resources on its behalf. Their actions directly affect the lives of the public and the confidence that the public has in Government.
The Australian public, quite rightly, demands high standards of behaviour and ethical conduct from the people entrusted with this responsibility.
The Australian Public Service (APS) Values and Code of Conduct apply to all APS employees. They provide a robust framework for guiding behaviours and decision making. Paying attention to them and developing skills in balancing their inherent tensions becomes easier with practice.
Sometimes, however, additional guidance may help APS employees to make difficult choices with confidence.
All APS employees need to be able to meet the high standard of professionalism expected of them by the public.
What is an ethical problem?
As public servants we must use our judgement and discretion when making decisions, taking into consideration four aspects:
- What are the rules?
- What is our role?
- What are our responsibilities?
- What is the right thing to do?
Ethical issues are not confined to whether public servants are just obeying the rules or not, although at times applying the rules will resolve the situation—for example, taking Commonwealth property from work without authority for personal use is a breach of the APS Code of Conduct.
But many situations will not be clearly either black or white. There may at times be complex interactions between the rules, roles and responsibilities that face all public servants.
Public servants often face situations where they will need to think about both short and long term consequences, the effect of their decisions on others, and their duty to various people. In these situations, the answers may not be clear cut and there will often be conflicting demands.
As public servants, we don’t always have certainty about the consequences of our decisions, yet we must act responsibly and ethically. We may face and resolve problems with an ethical dimension every day in our work when exercising judgement and responsibility, responding to authority, and undertaking different roles.
Ethics Advisory Service
The Ethics Advisory Service is available to all Australian Public Service (APS) employees, including agency heads and SES staff, who wish to discuss and seek advice on ethical issues that occur in the workplace and make sound decisions around these issues.
It provides advice on:
- the application and interpretation of the APS Values and Code of Conduct; sections 10 and 13 of the Public Service Act 1999 (the Act)
- strategies and techniques for ethical decision making in the APS
- interpretation of the misconduct and whistleblowing provisions of the Act; as well as advice on related policy and good practice.
Networks and forums
The Ethics Contact Officer Network (ECONET) plays a key role in supporting the ongoing work of the Ethics Advisory Service (the Service) including promoting the Government’s ethical agenda which is focussed on enhancing ethics and accountability in the Commonwealth Public Sector.
In partnership with the Service, the role of the ECONET is to:
- providing a point of contact within agencies for the dissemination of ongoing Commission information and advice on ethical decision making
- providing information on agency internal ethical advice systems and contacts that callers to the Service might in some circumstances be referred to
- providing a point of contact within agencies for advice on the resolution of systemic or sensitive agency ethical issues
- building the capability within agencies for ethical decision making
- sharing information, experience and good practice advice on ethical decision making
- providing feedback on current and emerging ethical issues, including any data to supplement the EAS reporting to Parliament.
- APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice: A guide to official conduct for APS employees and agency heads
- ARCHIVE: Circular 2007/3: Post Separation Employment: Policy Guidelines
- ARCHIVE: Circular 2009/1: Revised edition of Merit and transparency policy and guidelines
- ARCHIVE: Circular 2010/3: Changes to timeframes for lodging review of actions
- Circular 2007/1: Declarations of personal interests: Revised policy guidelines
- Circular 2007/2: The Privacy Act and employee information concerning Code of Conduct matters
- Circular 2007/5: Involvement of public servants in public information and awareness initiatives
- Circular 2008/3: Providing information on Code of Conduct investigation outcomes to complainants
- Circular 2008/4: Requirements relating to the Lobbying Code of Conduct and post separation contact with Government
- Circular 2008/7: Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff
- Circular 2011/5: Electronic publication for advice to agencies on providing procedural fairness in whistleblower investigations
- Circular 2012/1: Revisions to the Commission's guidance on making public comment and participating online
- Embedding the APS Values: Framework and checklist
- Handling misconduct : A human resources practitioner's guide to the reporting and handling of suspected and determined breaches of the APS Code of Conduct
- In whose interests?: Preventing and managing conflicts of interest in the APS
- Reflect: APS Values and Code of Conduct: Decision-making model
- Reinvigorating the Westminster tradition: Integrity and accountability in relations between the Australian Government and the APS
- Respect: promoting a culture free from harassment and bullying in the APS