Conflicts of interest
Last updated: 24 Feb 2016
This page is: current
The public is entitled to have confidence in the integrity of their public officials, and to know that an Australian Public Service (APS) employee's personal interests do not conflict with his or her public duties.
In accordance with section 13(7) of the Code of Conduct contained in the Public Service Act 1999 (PS Act), an APS employee must:
- take reasonable steps to avoid any conflict of interest (real or apparent) in connection with the employee's APS employment; and
- disclose details of any material personal interest of the employee in connection with the employee's APS employment.
Additionally, section 13(10) of the PS Act provides that an APS employee must not improperly use inside information or the employee's duties, status, power or authority:
- to gain, or seek to gain, a benefit or an advantage for the employee or any other person; or
- to cause, or seek to cause, detriment to the employee's agency, the Commonwealth or any other person.
To be 'material' a personal interest needs to be of a type that can give rise to a real or apparent conflict of interest.
A real conflict of interest occurs where there is a conflict between the public duty and personal interests of an employee that improperly influences the employee in the performance of his or her duties.
An apparent conflict of interest occurs where it appears that an employee's personal interests could improperly influence the performance of his or her duties but this is not in fact the case.
Section 5 of the publication APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice provides more information about material personal interests.
Conflicts of interest, real or apparent, cannot always be avoided. Where this is the case, the Code of Conduct requires employees to disclose details of any material personal interest of the employee in connection with their employment.
Section 29 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 provides an obligation as part of the general duty of officials to disclose interests. For information see the Department of Finance guidance.
Disclosure of interests
The Code of Conduct requires that where a material personal interest cannot be avoided, the employee must disclose that interest so that it can be managed.
Agency heads and SES employees are required to declare in writing, at least annually, their own and their immediate family's financial and other interests that could cause a real or apparent conflict of interest.
Declarations need to be revised and resubmitted whenever there is a change in personal circumstances and/or a change in work responsibilities that could involve a new real or apparent conflict of interest.
A template that agencies may wish to adapt for this purpose is available here. While there is no standard list of items that must be disclosed, the template provides examples of the types of interests and relationships that could be considered.
Agency heads may also require other employees to complete a declaration of interests.
Read more about conflicts of interest in the publication APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice and the Department of Finance Resource Management Guide No. 203 General duties of officials.