State of the Service Report 2013–14

 

Appendix 6 - Integrity and Code of Conduct

This appendix reports on the extent to which Australian Public Service (APS) employees operate in accordance with the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct.

The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (the PGPA Act) came into effect on 1 July 2014. It sets out, in sections 25 to 29, general duties of officials. To ensure consistency and alignment with the PGPA Act regarding the management of Australian Government resources, minor amendments to the Code of Conduct were made through the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2014. These also came into effect on 1 July 2014.

Embedding the APS Values

A culture based on the APS Values and adherence to the Employment Principles and Code of Conduct is at the heart of a high-performing and trustworthy public service. This year saw a period of consolidation as APS agencies sought to embed the revised APS Values and other changes resulting from the amendments to the Public Service Act 1999 (Public Service Act) that took effect on 1 July 2013.

In 2013–14, agencies reported, through the State of the Service Agency Survey (agency survey), on their progress in ‘hardwiring’ the APS Values into systems, procedures and practices. Table A6.1 shows that almost one-third of agencies are yet to embed the Values into reward and recognition schemes or the Values and the Code of Conduct into risk management processes.

Table A6.1.Embedding the APS Values, 2013–14
  Yes—whole agency (%) Yes—part agency (%)
Source: Agency survey
The agency's strategic plan and operational/business plans reflect the APS Values 84 6
Internal agency communications strategies support and reinforce the APS Values 90 5
On-boarding and other learning and development activities incorporate ‘how to live’ the APS Values, including how to make good value-based decisions 77 10
APS Values are built into agency governance practices 85 5
Performance management frameworks take into account the way in which employees uphold the APS Values 94 4
Modelling of APS Values is formally incorporated into leader performance assessments 89 3
APS Values are clearly reflected in agency management policies and procedures including employment policies 94 5
Reward and recognition schemes reinforce and promote the APS Values 65 7
Agency strategies exist that identify areas of risk in upholding the APS Values and Code of Conduct 64 8
Agency has processes that ensure transparency of decision-making including appropriate record keeping 95 3

Ethics Advisory Service

The Ethics Advisory Service (EAS) assists all APS employees, including Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and agency heads, by providing guidance on how to apply the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct, as well as on strategies and techniques for ethical decision-making. In 2013–14, the EAS received 807 enquiries relating to employees in 80 APS agencies. Of the enquiries that fell within the scope of the EAS, 43% were from individual APS employees and 46% from employees working in corporate areas. The majority of the remaining enquiries were from private citizens, including relatives of employees. Sixty-five per cent of those who made an enquiry and gave their classification were Executive Level (EL) employees, 28% were APS 1–6 and 7% were members of the SES.

Queries about suspected misconduct in the workplace (including decisions about whether to address unacceptable behaviour through a Code of Conduct process or otherwise) and how to respond to it accounted for almost one-third of issues raised. This finding is consistent with previous years. Relationships in the workplace (including queries about bullying and harassment, discrimination and workplace culture) and conflicts of interest (including accepting gifts and benefits or engaging in outside employment) were other major categories of enquiry. The number of enquiries about managing information (including personal information) and employees as citizens (including making public comment and engaging in political activities) was higher than in the previous year. This may reflect, respectively, changes to privacy legislation and the general election held during the reporting period. These findings are illustrated in Figure A6.1.

As agencies sought to embed the new APS Values into their day-to-day work, there was strong interest in EAS services, including guidance and training materials. More than three-quarters of enquiries in this category came from employees in corporate services areas.

Figure A6.1. Proportion of EAS enquiries by category, 2013–14

Figure A6.1 is a bar chart showing misconduct accounted for 30% of enquiries to the Ethics Advisory Service while ethics advisory services accounted for 23% and relationships in the workplace accounted for 17%. Conflict of interest accounted for 13%, employees as citizens and managing information both accounted for 7% and relationships with government accounted for 1% of all enquires. Relationships with stakeholders accounted for less than 1% of enquiries to the Ethics Advisory Service.

Source: Ethics Advisory Service

Trends in the nature of enquiries to the EAS are used to inform the Australian Public Service Commissioner's guidance. The Tips and Traps in Selecting External Investigators guide was published in 2013–14 to help agencies manage investigations in a way that is consistent with the legal framework, produce a high-quality outcome and deliver value for money for the agency. This year also saw the start of a project to revise the Handling Misconduct, a human resource practitioner's guide to the reporting and handling of suspected and determined breaches of the APS Code of Conduct. The revised publication is due for release early in 2015. One of its aims is to clarify issues raised by callers to the EAS.

Breaches of the APS Code of Conduct

The Public Service Act includes a statutory Code of Conduct setting out the behavioural standards expected of APS agency heads and employees. Section 15(3) of the Act requires agency heads to establish procedures for determining if an employee, or former employee, has breached the Code of Conduct and the sanctions that can be imposed if a breach is found. An agency head's procedures must have due regard to procedural fairness and the basic procedural requirements in the Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions 2013.

Levels of investigation

Agencies reported finalising Code of Conduct investigations into more employees in 2013–14 (592) than in the previous year (516). The proportion of breaches found from finalised investigations also increased—from 75% in 2012–13 to 81% in 2013–14. Table A6.2 shows the number of employees investigated for suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct over the past three years, the number found to have breached the Code of Conduct and the proportion of breaches found from finalised investigations.

Table A6.2. Finalised investigations and breaches of the Code of Conduct, 2011–12 to 2013–14
Year Finalised investigations (number of employees) Breaches of Code of Conduct found
Number of employees Breaches from finalised investigations (%)
Source: Agency survey
2013–14 592 480 81
2012–13 516 385 75
2011–12 793 481 61

Failure to behave at all times in a way that upholds the APS Values and Employment Principles and the integrity and good reputation of the employee's agency and the APS—Section 13(11) of the Public Service Act—continued to be the most common alleged breach, a factor in 74% of finalised investigations during 2013–14.

Table A6.3 shows the number of employees investigated by agencies for suspected breaches of individual elements of the Code of Conduct and the proportion of breach findings during 2012–13 and 2013–14.

Table A6.3. Nature of reported and finalised breaches of the Code of Conduct, 2012–13 and 2013–14
Type of misconduct Employees investigated for this element of the Code (number) Employees found to have breached this element of the Code (% of those investigated)
2012–13 2013–14 2012–13 2013–14
Source: Agency survey
At all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and APS Employment Principles and the integrity and good reputation of the employee's Agency and the APS 308 441 85 84
Behave honestly and with integrity in connection with APS employment 213 296 77 79
Disclose, and take reasonable steps to avoid, any conflict of interest (real or apparent) in connection with APS employment 134 227 89 93
Act with care and diligence in connection with APS employment 177 228 81 86
When acting in connection with APS employment, treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment 166 169 77 67
Comply with any lawful and reasonable direction given by someone in the employee's agency who has the authority to give the direction 191 163 88 82
Not make improper use of inside information, or the employee's duties, status, power or authority, to gain, or seek to gain, a benefit or advantage for the employee or any other person 80 124 63 64
Use Commonwealth resources in a proper manner 146 122 90 75
Not provide false or misleading information in response to a request for information that is made for official purposes in connection with the employee's APS employment 29 41 59 80
When acting in connection with APS employment, comply with all applicable Australian laws 76 25 58 76
While on duty overseas, at all times behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia 5 4 20 75
Comply with any other conduct requirement that is prescribed by the regulations 2 2 0 100
Maintain appropriate confidentiality about dealings that the employee has with any Minister or Minister's member of staff 0 1 0 0

Note: An employee may be investigated for an alleged breach of more than one element of the Code.

This year agencies were asked for the first time about how allegations of misconduct were identified. Agencies reported that most investigations were initiated by a complaint made using agency reporting arrangements or compliance measures, including system-generated reports and audit results. Other sources included information provided by the Australian Federal Police, a state or territory government or information directly from an employee.

Table A6.4. Source of reports that led to finalised investigations, 2013–14
Source of report Employees investigated (no.)
Source: Agency survey
A report made to a central conduct or ethics unit or nominated person in a human resources area 222
A report generated by a compliance/monitoring system (e.g. audit) 179
A report made to a fraud prevention and control unit or hotline 25
Public Interest Disclosure 10
A report made to an employee advice or counselling unit 2
A report made to another hotline 3
A report made to an email reporting address 0
Other 89

Outcomes of finalised investigations

A higher number of employees resigned in 2013–14 after a breach was found but before a sanction decision was made, while in 2012–13 a higher number of employees resigned before the investigation was concluded. This may reflect amendments to the Public Service Act that came into effect on 1 July 2013 which allow for a former employee to be investigated for an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct.

New data was captured in 2013–14 on the reasons for not imposing a sanction where a breach of the Code of Conduct was found. Agencies listed a range of reasons for not imposing a sanction in cases where a breach of the Code of Conduct was found and the employee did not resign, including where the employee was non-ongoing and their contract was not renewed or where there were medical reasons not to impose a sanction.

Table A6.5. Outcomes of investigations into suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct, 2012–13 and 2013–14
Outcome Employees affected (number)
2012–13 2013–14
Source: Agency survey
Breach found and sanction imposed 360 365
Breach found but no sanction imposed—employee resigned 25 72
Breach found but no sanction imposed—other reason 43
No breach found 80 85
Investigation discontinued—employee resigned 71 18
Investigation discontinued—other reason 9

The sanctions imposed were similar to previous years. Reprimands remain the most commonly imposed sanction, accounting for almost half of sanctions imposed. Sixty employees had their employment terminated for misconduct in 2013–14.

Table A6.6. Sanctions imposed for breach of the Code of Conduct, 2012–13 and 2013–14
Outcome Employees affected (number)
2012–13 2013–14
Source: Agency survey
Reprimand 238 274
Deductions from salary by way of a fine 120 106
Reduction in salary 82 121
Termination of employment 38 60
Reduction in classification 16 39
Reassignment of duties 13 11

Allegations of corruption in the APS

The 2014 APS Employee Census (employee census) included questions about employee perceptions of corruption in the APS.

The employee census defined corruption as ‘the dishonest or biased exercise of a Commonwealth public official's functions. A distinguishing characteristic of corrupt behaviour is that it involves conduct that would usually justify serious penalties, such as termination of employment or criminal prosecution’. Employees were given a list of categories of behaviour to choose from to confine responses to matters of a serious nature that, if proven, might lead to termination of employment. More than one category could be selected for one incident.

Care needs to be taken in interpreting this data. Corruption can be difficult to define, and there is limited opportunity in an online survey to describe the types of serious behaviours of interest. Moreover, the employee census did not ask employees to confine their responses to corruption witnessed in their agency nor to exclude corruption witnessed as part of their duties, for example, as an investigator. It is also possible that more than one employee witnessed a single alleged corrupt behaviour.

In the employee census, 2.6% of respondents indicated they had witnessed another APS employee engaging in behaviour they considered serious enough to be viewed as corruption.

Nearly half of those who reported witnessing suspected corrupt behaviour selected nepotism or cronyism as the type of behaviour witnessed (44%), followed by other (32%) and acting (or failing to act) in the presence of an undisclosed conflict of interest (29%). These and other findings are included in Table A6.7.

Table A6.7. Type of suspected corruption witnessed by employees, 2014
Type of behaviour Per cent of those that reported corruption
Source: Employee census
Nepotism and cronyism 44
Other 32
Acting (or failing to act) in the presence of an undisclosed conflict of interest 29
Fraud, forgery, embezzlement 24
Theft or misappropriation of official assets 13
Unlawful disclosure of government information 8
Bribery, domestic and foreign-obtaining, offering or soliciting secret commissions, kickbacks or gratuities 6
Perverting the course of justice 5
Blackmail 4
Colluding, conspiring with or harbouring, criminals 2

Note: One employee witnessing one incident may list it against more than one type of suspected corrupt behaviour.

Of the employees who said they witnessed suspected corrupt behaviour, 44% reported it in accordance with their agency's policies and procedures. The reporting rate differs for each type of behaviour, with employees almost twice as likely to have reported fraud, forgery or embezzlement (61%) as nepotism and cronyism (33%).

It is possible that employees dissatisfied with selection exercises and management practices may be reporting less serious behaviours as nepotism or cronyism, rather than serious misconduct, for which a sanction of termination of employment may be reasonably applied.

The results for the APS can be compared with other jurisdictions. An online survey conducted with Victorian public service employees in 2012–13 found that 16% of respondents thought there was some or a lot of corruption in their agency.1 Twenty-five per cent of these respondents had personally observed an employee in their agency hiring friends or family for a public service job, while 20% observed a conflict of interest and 15% misuse of information or material. While the small number of APS employees who reported witnessing suspected corrupt behaviours compares favourably with these results, the Victorian questionnaire did not limit responses only to behaviours that occurred in a 12-month period.

APS agencies reported that 117 employees were investigated for suspected corrupt behaviour in 2013–14. These employees are included in the total figure of 592 employees investigated for suspected misconduct in Table A6.2.

Allegations of harassment and bullying

Seventeen per cent of employees responding to the employee census indicated they had been subjected to harassment or bullying in their workplace in the 12 months before the survey. Twenty-one per cent reported they witnessed another employee being subjected to what they perceived as bullying or harassment in the same time period. These results are similar to 2012–13 (16% and 21% respectively). When asked to report on the most serious type of behaviour that the bullying or harassment involved, just over one-quarter of respondents selected verbal abuse, while the other main categories of unacceptable behaviour related to inappropriate and unfair performance management practices (15%), inappropriate and unfair application of other work policies or rules (14%) and harassment based on a personal characteristic (12%).

Table A6.8. Type of harassment or bullying employees felt they had been subjected to, 2014
Type of behaviour Per cent of those that reported harrassment or bullying
Source: Employee census
Verbal abuse 26
Inappropriate and unfair application of performance management practices 15
Inappropriate and unfair application of other work policies or rules 14
Harassment based on a personal characteristic (e.g. gender, disability, ethnicity, age, religion, political opinion, sex) 12
Inappropriate and unfair application of fitness for duty assessments 2
Physical behaviour 1
‘Initiations’ or pranks 1
Other 29

Of employees who considered they had been harassed or bullied, 37% reported it, down from 43% in 2013–14. The reporting rate was higher for employees who reported witnessing what they perceived as the harassment or bullying of others (40%, up from 35% in 2012–13).

APS agencies reported that 92 employees were investigated for suspected bullying or harassment in 2013–14. These 92 employees are included in the total figure of 592 employees investigated for suspected misconduct in Table A6.2.

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Footnotes

1 Graycar, A 2013, Perceptions of corruption in the Victorian Public Sector: Report to IBAC, VPS Survey—March 2013 Topline findings, Australian National University, Canberra.

Page ID: 64261 (6. Integrity and Code of Conduct)