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03 Transparency and integrity

Available data suggests that Australia’s public sector, including the Australian Public Service (APS), continues to perform well on perceptions of the quality and independence of its public administration.

For example, according to the World Bank’s Governance Matters rankings of 2012, Australia is ranked in the 95th percentile for the:

  • government effectiveness indicator, which measures perceptions of the quality of public services
  • quality of the civil service and its independence from political pressures
  • quality of policy formulation
  • credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies.

Australia performed better than the United Kingdom and the United States for the government effectiveness indicator.

For the control of corruption indicator, which captures perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain as well as ‘capture’ of the state by elites and private interests, Australia ranked in the 96th percentile, performing better than the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Switzerland.

As well, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2011 ranked Australia equal eighth best in the world with Switzerland on a spectrum of least to most corrupt. Countries that ranked more highly than Australia were New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Singapore, Norway and the Netherlands.

These indicators relate to Australian governments generally, but they are, nevertheless, a good starting point for assessing the ethical health of the APS.

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Breaches of the APS Code of Conduct

Important elements of an ethical framework are clear standards of conduct, effective systems and processes for identifying behaviour inconsistent with those standards, and fair dealing with employees where misconduct is proven.

Section 15(3) of the Public Service Act 1999 (the Act) requires agency heads to establish procedures, having due regard to procedural fairness, for determining if an employee has breached the APS Code of Conduct.

Overall, the level of misconduct in the APS appears to be low. In 2011–12, less than three in every 1,000 employees (0.28%) were found to have breached the APS Code of Conduct.

Levels of investigation

The number of Code of Conduct investigations finalised during the year is in line with that for 2010–11. However, the number of employees found to have breached the Code of Conduct in 2011–12 fell by 95, building on a small drop in the previous year. Table 3.1 shows APS results for investigations into, and breaches of, the Code of Conduct over the past three years. Care should be taken in interpreting these falls as indicative of a trend, as the small numbers involved are inherently volatile.

Table 3.1 Finalised investigations and breaches of the APS Code of Conduct, 2009–10 to 2011–12
Year Finalised investigations (no. of employees) Breaches of Code of Conduct found
(no. of employees) (% of finalised investigations)
Source: Agency survey
2009–10 970 590 61
2010–11 796 576 72
2011–12 793 481 61

As in previous years, there is variation between agencies in the number of investigations conducted, which may reflect different practices and emphasis, particularly around deciding whether to investigate under section 15(3) procedures.1 In some cases, particularly those involving less serious matters, agencies may prefer to use other means, such as training, counselling or performance management.

This year, four large agencies accounted for 80% of finalised Code of Conduct investigations in the APS, although they employed 54% of APS employees. These agencies also accounted for 78% of employees found to have breached the Code of Conduct.2

Figure 3.1 shows the main ways that suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct were identified. The data shows that agencies rely on multiple, complementary approaches to identify suspected misconduct. This year shows a marked change in the proportion of suspected breaches identified through agency compliance and monitoring systems (down from 35% last year to 25%). Investigations undertaken as a result of identification by supervisors or managers increased from 31% to 37%, while those undertaken as a result of identification by colleagues only increased slightly to 16%.

Figure 3.1 Main ways that suspected breaches of the APS Code of Conduct were identified, 2010–11 and 2011–12

Source: Agency survey

Note: (a) Excludes the Department of Immigration and Citizenship from both numerator and denominator as the department did not categorise conduct identified by staff (i.e. by supervisors/managers or work colleagues).

Nature of reported breaches

Table 3.2 indicates the rates at which individual elements of the Code of Conduct were breached in 2010–11 and 2011–12. In most cases, there were small variations in the numbers of employees investigated for breaching various elements of the Code in 2011–12 compared with 2010–11. The proportion of employees found to have breached specific elements remained relatively stable. The most notable exception was use of Commonwealth resources. Here, there was a substantial fall in the number of suspected breaches (140 less). In 2010–11, the ATO implemented more sophisticated detection systems, including screening all internal and external emails, which may have contributed to the higher number of investigations and percentage of determined breaches for this element of the Code compared with 2011–12.

Table 3.2 Elements of the Code of Conduct found to have been breached in finalised investigations, 2010–11 and 2011–12
Element of the Code of Conduct Employees investigated for this element of the Code (no.) Employees found to have breached this element of the Code (%)
2010–11 2011–12 2010–11 2011–12

Source: Agency survey

Note: An individual employee may be counted against more than one element of the Code of Conduct.

At all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS 351 335 79 81
Comply with any lawful and reasonable direction given by someone in the employee’s agency who has authority to give the direction 350 299 92 91
Behave honestly and with integrity in the course of APS employment 281 261 77 74
When acting in the course of APS employment, treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment 210 235 61 66
Act with care and diligence in the course of APS employment 199 225 79 78
Use Commonwealth resources in a proper manner 356 216 83 81
Disclose, and take reasonable steps to avoid, any conflict of interest (real or apparent) in connection with APS employment 154 162 87 87
When acting in the course of APS employment, comply with all applicable Australian laws 114 91 80 84
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 105 89 69 64
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 52 38 75 79
While on duty overseas, at all times behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia 3 5 0 40
Comply with any other conduct requirement that is prescribed by the regulations 10 3 80 33
Maintain appropriate confidentiality about dealings that the employee has with any minister or minister’s member of staff 3 1 100 100

Table 3.3 shows the types of behaviour resulting in Code of Conduct investigations. Misuse of internet/email continued to decline and was replaced by inappropriate behaviour (other than harassment or bullying) of employees as the most common type of misconduct investigated in 2011–12. Misuse of internet/email remained the most common type for which a breach of the Code of Conduct was found. The other notable shift this year was the drop in cases of fraud other than theft in which an APS employee was found to have breached the Code (from 53 cases to 17 cases).

Table 3.3 Types of misconduct in finalised investigations, 2010–11 and 2011–12
Type of misconduct Employees investigated for this type of misconduct (no.) Employees found to have breached the Code (%)
2010–11 2011–12 2010–11 2011–12
Source: Agency survey

Note: An individual employee may be counted against more than one type of misconduct.

Inappropriate behaviour (other than harassment or bullying) of employees during working hours (e.g. unprofessional, offensive or disrespectful behaviour and comments to other employees, clients or stakeholders) 148 171 72 73
Improper use of internet/email 213 163 83 82
Improper access to personal information (e.g. browsing) 145 162 83 75
Harassment and/or bullying 114 118 46 53
Conflict of interest 72 94 86 69
Fraud other than theft (e.g. identity fraud) 64 53 83 32
Improper use of resources other than internet/email (e.g. vehicles) 72 51 57 59
Improper use of position status (e.g. abuse of power, exceeding delegations) 58 39 50 49
Unauthorised disclosure of information (e.g. leaks) 24 24 71 33
Private behaviour of employees (e.g. at social functions outside working hours) 25 23 68 74
Misuse of drugs or alcohol 10 9 30 56
Theft 11 8 64 50

Outcomes of finalised investigations

Table 3.4 shows the outcomes of finalised investigations of suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct. Reprimands remain the most commonly imposed sanction, accounting for almost half of sanctions imposed. The next most common sanction was deductions from salaries (26%). While the number of investigations remained steady (796 in 2010–11 and 793 in 2011–12), fewer employees were found to have breached the Code of Conduct. Sanctions are intended to be proportional to the nature of the breach, provide a clear message to the employee that their behaviour was not acceptable and act as a deterrent to the employee and other employees.

Table 3.4 Outcomes of investigations into suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct, 2010–11 and 2011–123
Outcome Employees affected (no.)
2010–11 2011–12

Source: Agency survey

Note: An individual employee may be counted against more than one outcome.(a) This figure appears inconsistent with the figure reported in Table 3.1. This may be due to agencies reporting discontinued cases as finalised investigations.

Reprimand 268 315
Deductions from salary by way of a fine 176 171
Reduction in salary 99 85
Investigation discontinued because of resignation of employee under investigation 3 98 81
Termination of employment 71 51
Employee counselled 49 21
Breach found but no sanction imposed 26 30
Reduction in classification 33 16
Reassignment of duties 10 9
Other (e.g. retraining, suspension with or without pay, performance improvement plans) 26 32
No breach found 133 140(a)

Whistleblowing reports

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it is essential, as part of an effective public sector ethics management regime, to have clear rules and procedures for officials to follow, and a clear chain of responsibility, in cases where officials report wrongdoing.4 A whistleblowing scheme can provide this.

Section 16 of the Act provides protection for whistleblowers, and Regulation 2.4 of the Public Service Regulations requires agencies to develop procedures for dealing with whistleblowing reports (reports of suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct made by an APS employee to an agency head or authorised person).

Whistleblowing reports within agencies are considered, and a decision made about whether to conduct an investigation, under an agency’s section 15(3) procedures to determine whether there has been a breach of the Code of Conduct.

In 2011–12, all large and medium agencies, and 96% of small agencies, reported having procedures in place. The two small agencies (4%) reporting that they do not, have been contacted by the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) with an offer of assistance. One agency indicated it is working with the Australian Government Solicitor to finalise new procedures and the other—a very small and recently established agency—is developing its procedures.

This year, 54 whistleblowing reports were made in APS agencies.5 Forty-seven of these were finalised in the year. Of those finalised, 10 (21%) resulted in a decision to start an investigation into the alleged misconduct. In 2010–11, 76 whistleblowing reports were made within APS agencies.

Table 3.5 shows the subject matter of whistleblowing reports in 2010–11 and 2011–12. Together, harassment and bullying, and inappropriate behaviour during working hours (for example, dishonest or unprofessional behaviour to other employees, clients or stakeholders) accounted for 44% of all allegations in 2011–12 (32% in 2010–11).

Table 3.5 Whistleblowing reports lodged within agencies, 2011–12
Subject matter Reports lodged (no.)(a)
2010–11 2011–12

Source: Agency survey

Note: (a) An individual report can be counted against more than one subject.

Harassment and bullying 18 15
Inappropriate behaviour (other than harassment or bullying) of employee during working hours (e.g. dishonest or unprofessional behaviour to other employees, clients or stakeholders) 6 9
Improper use of position or status (e.g. abuse of power, exceeding delegations) 12 8
Improper access to personal information (e.g. browsing) 3 6
Improper use of resources other than internet/email (e.g. vehicles) 8 4
Improper use of internet/email 4 4
Conflict of interest 6 3
Fraud other than theft (e.g. identity fraud) 11 2
Theft 4 2
Private behaviour of employees (e.g. at social functions outside working hours) 3 1
Misuse of drugs or alcohol 2 0
Other 13 8

Reporting suspected misconduct

The integrity of the APS—and of individual APS agencies—relies on the willingness of employees to report suspected misconduct. Twelve per cent of APS employees reported witnessing another APS employee engaging in behaviour they saw as a serious breach of the Code of Conduct in 2011–12, compared with 15% of employees in 2010–11.6

Of those who said they had witnessed serious misconduct, 56% said they had reported this within their agency. The 44% of employees who said they had witnessed an incident, but did not report it, gave as the most common reasons:7

  • I did not think any action would be taken. (46%)
  • It could affect my career. (33%)
  • I did not want to upset relationships in the workplace. (30%)

Of those who reported serious misconduct by another employee in their agency, 55% reported they were not satisfied with the outcome. The most common reasons they gave were:8

  • The agency did not take any effective action. (68%)9
  • The employee continued to breach the Code. (48%)
  • The managers accepted the behaviour. (47%)
  • My working relationships have been negatively affected. (35%)
  • My career has been negatively affected. (25%)

These results suggest agencies need to do more to create an environment in which employees feel confident in the integrity of their agency and the ethical behaviour of their senior managers, and in which employees are encouraged to bring issues of concern to the attention of their agency, confident that they will be dealt with seriously. The Commission’s publication Handling Misconduct: A human resources practitioner’s guide to the reporting and handling of suspected and determined breaches of the APS Code of Conduct 10 provides assistance to agencies in reviewing and improving their guidance material and procedures for reporting and dealing with suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct. A second publication, Not just about process: the review of actions scheme, assists agencies to respond to employee complaints and disputes in the context of the Values.11

The Ethics Advisory Service

The Ethics Advisory Service (EAS) is available to assist all APS employees, including Senior Executive Service (SES) staff and agency heads, by providing advice on public sector ethical issues. It provides an avenue to seek guidance on how to apply the APS Values and Code of Conduct, and strategies and techniques for ethical decision-making in the APS.

In 2011–12, the EAS received 1,079 enquiries (a small increase from the 1,065 received in 2010–11), of which 893 (83%) were in scope (compared to 71% last year). Enquiries came from across the APS, with 90 agencies represented, indicating that awareness and take up of the service is widespread and that APS employees are confident to use the service for advice about ethical issues before they act. Figure 3.2 shows the proportion of in-scope enquiries in each category. The most frequent type of report was regarding misconduct in the workplace.

Figure 3.2 In-scope queries to the Ethics Advisory Service by category, 2011–12

Source: Ethics Advisory Service

Note: *The Ethics Contact Officer Network

Of the enquiries that fell within the scope of the EAS in 2011–12, 5% came from SES employees, 30% from Executive Level (EL) employees, and 21% from APS 1–6 employees. An additional 23% of employees making enquiries chose not to give their classification and 5% chose to remain anonymous. Twenty-eight per cent of enquiries came from employees in corporate areas, which included queries about management approaches to various matters concerning the APS Values.

Enquiries from APS employees in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) accounted for 45% of total queries (40% of the total APS workforce is located in the ACT).

Agency strategies and activities to embed the APS Values

As reported in Chapter 2, 98% of APS agencies indicated they promoted the complete set of APS Values in 2011–12, using a range of learning and awareness-raising strategies. The most common strategy was raising awareness through induction and/or orientation (90% of agencies implemented agency-wide and another 6% in part of the agency). Chapter 2 also highlights the critical role of induction in signalling the importance an agency attaches to the APS Values.

Agencies were asked about additional strategies that were effective in raising awareness of and embedding the APS Values.

Examples of strategies identified by agencies

IP Australia applies ‘Upholding the APS Values’ as a guiding principle in its strategic statement 2009–14 for how it will carry out its business. IP Australia’s online induction module ‘Welcome to IP Australia’ includes an overview of the APS Values by its Deputy Director General who also describes how the Values are applied in IP Australia.

The Australian Crime Commission undertook an integrity survey of all employees to better understand their awareness of the APS Values, using definitions and scenario-based questions.

The Australian Human Rights Commission undertakes induction for all new employees, which emphasises the APS Values. The Commission also uses its intranet to feature case studies on mediated complaints to reinforce the importance of the Values.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations conducted a series of audience participation panel sessions around the themes of respect, diversity and ethics, with the format based on television hypothetical programs. One panel included the Merit Protection Commissioner. Employees could provide questions for discussion. The sessions enabled employees to gain an appreciation of the complexities of the issues and the importance of judgement in applying the APS Values in the workplace.

The Public Service Amendment Bill 2012, passed by the House of Representatives on 20 August 2012, proposes a new set of APS Values. The Bill is before the Senate. If enacted, the new Values will need to be deeply embedded and championed by senior executives to reap the benefits of the values-based culture envisaged by Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration (APS Reform Blueprint).12

Perceptions of corruption in the APS

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) released its report for the inquiry into the operation of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 in July 2011.13 Among other things, the Committee recommended that the Australian Government examine the merits of establishing an integrity commission with anticorruption oversight of all Australian Government agencies, taking into account the need to retain the expertise of ACLEI in the area of law enforcement.

In noting this recommendation the government response to the report of that inquiry stated the government's approach to preventing corruption is based on the premise that no single body should be responsible. Instead, a strong constitutional foundation (separation of powers and the rule of law) is enhanced by a range of bodies and government initiatives that promote accountability and transparency. This distribution of responsibility is a great strength in Australia's approach to corruption because it creates a strong system of checks and balances.

The establishment of ACLEI in 2006, together with other measures to strengthen the integrity framework, are indicative of the changing risk environment for Australian Government agencies and risk management strategies adopted to address or minimise corruption risks. ACLEI has provided an avenue of forensic investigation of fraudulent or otherwise corrupt conduct that was previously available only for matters referred for police investigation and, if warranted, criminal prosecution.

Other elements of the integrity framework governing the activities of APS agencies and employees include the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines (2011), Commonwealth Procurement Rules (2012), which update and strengthen the former Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines (in effect from 2008), Commonwealth Grant Guidelines (2009) and the National Anti-Corruption Plan currently under development.

While corruption is not defined in the Act, types of misconduct that could include corrupt conduct are conflict of interest, fraud, improper use of position status, unauthorised disclosure and theft. Table 3.3 details the number of employees investigated and number of breaches found for these categories of misconduct for the last two years.

Media reports from late 2011 to mid-2012 suggested that corruption in the APS was rife and an integrity watchdog was required. The reports were based on a small number of cases in a small number of APS agencies.14 The reports did not unearth cases other than those which agencies were already aware of and acting on, by taking appropriate investigative and disciplinary action and/or referring for criminal investigation and prosecution as necessary.

Incidents reported in the media suggest that the current system of checks and balances is working and that APS agencies are appropriately managing risks in their operating environments. However, while reported incidence of breaches of the Code of Conduct in areas suggesting there may be risks of corrupt conduct—abuse of power or position, fraud, theft or bribery—remain low, the data only tells us about cases where suspected misconduct has been identified. There is no room for complacency and the APS needs to remain vigilant in managing its corruption risks.

Auditor-General's performance audits

Each year the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) conducts performance audits and tables them in parliament. Recommendations are made to improve weaknesses identified. Performance audits play a key role in assuring the integrity of public administration.

The Auditor-General said in his 2011–12 annual report that two areas continue to receive audit attention—administration of grants and government procurement. He reported:

Grant administration is an important activity for many government entities involving the payment of billions of dollars in public funds each year. The transparency, accountability and probity with which grant decisions are made have been of longstanding parliamentary and public interest. While the 2009 Commonwealth Grant Guidelines were a significant advance in public administration, our audits continue to highlight aspects of their implementation where there is room for improvement.

Government entities enter into tens of thousands of contracts valued at tens of billions of dollars each year (79,000 contracts valued at $36.6 billion in 2011–12). Given its importance, the ANAO has audited aspects of government procurement practice over the years, most recently reporting on the establishment and use of procurement panels and the administration of the Australia Network tender process. The ANAO found that agencies generally established procurement panels through sound tender processes but that there was considerable scope for agencies to employ more competitive arrangements when selecting suppliers from panels. The audit of the Australia Network tender process highlighted, amongst other things, the importance of: departments assisting government in establishing any formal role for ministers in tender processes; maintaining information security during tenders; adhering to conventional procurement arrangements; and effectively managing the range of risks involved in procurement processes.15

In this sense the Auditor-General's annual report reinforces the APS Values and Code of Conduct. It highlights the need for agencies to focus on achieving value for money through competitive tendering, using proper processes to maintain trust and manage risk, and maintaining appropriate levels of confidentiality.

Review of employment actions

The Act establishes a review of action scheme for non-SES employees to use to seek review when they believe an action taken relating to their employment is unfair or unreasonable.

The Act requires that an APS employee applies to the agency head for review in the first instance for the majority of employment-related decisions and actions (a ‘primary review’). If an employee is not satisfied with the outcome, or the agency head considers the action is not reviewable, the employee can apply for secondary review to the Merit Protection Commissioner.

In 2011–12, 37% of agencies received at least one application for a primary review of an employment action16, down from 43% in 2010–11. In all, 396 applications for review were made and 360 applications finalised by APS agencies. Applications in 2011–12 were concentrated in three large agencies: Department of Defence, Department of Human Services and the ATO, which together accounted for 66% of all applications and 49% of the APS workforce.

Forty-nine per cent of agencies that finalised applications for review reported that those applications involved performance feedback and/or assessment and 46% of agencies finalised applications for review involving access to leave or other employment conditions. Procedural issues in selection exercises was a topic for finalised reviews in 46% of agencies, and bullying or harassment was another significant topic for agencies (32%). A single application for review can involve more than one subject matter. For example, an application for review could involve performance feedback/assessment and harassment or bullying.

Most agencies (84%) that finalised applications this year reported an average timeframe of less than three months for finalising the reviews. Agencies reported 83% of finalised reviews resulted in no change to the original decision. Reviews were most commonly undertaken by human resources or other specialist staff of the agency (65%) or by managers from a different work area (41%). A smaller proportion was undertaken by external consultants (22%).

This year, employees were asked in the employee census about their views on a range of issues in their agencies, including their agency's processes to resolve employee grievances. Thirty-six per cent of employees indicated they had confidence in their agency's processes to resolve employee grievances, similar to last year's result (38%).

Harassment and bullying

Employers have a duty to manage risks to health and safety in their workplaces under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

Safe Work Australia has produced guidance and resource materials to support implementation of the WHS Act, including the Model Code of Practice—How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks. The code provides information on developing and implementing systematic risk management processes in the workplace, including for workplace harassment and bullying.17

Safe Work Australia is developing a specific code to deal with workplace bullying. The draft Code of Practice: Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying is being revised, based on feedback from the public. Safe Work Australia report they expect the code to be finalised in late 2012.

House of Representatives workplace bullying inquiry

In May 2012 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment began an inquiry into bullying in Australian workplaces, which is due to report on 30 November 2012.18

The inquiry is examining the nature, causes and extent of workplace bullying, and ways to address bullying cultures and prevent their development in the workplace. It will complement the work by Safe Work Australia to develop a code of practice on preventing and responding to workplace bullying.19

Harassment and bullying in the APS

APS workplaces should be fair, flexible, safe and rewarding.20 However, for most of the last decade, between 15% and 19% of APS employees have reported, in the annual State of the Service employee survey, that they experienced harassment or bullying in the workplace during the past 12 months.

In 2011–12, 17% of employees reported having experienced harassment or bullying in the past 12 months. A higher proportion of employees with disability reported being bullied than other employees (31% compared with 16% for the rest of the APS).

The most common form of harassment or bullying cited by employees was verbal abuse21 (55%), followed by inappropriate or unfair application of work policies or rules22 (43%). Initiations or pranks and interference with personal property or work equipment each accounted for less than 5% of unacceptable behaviour.

Employees most commonly nominated their supervisor (39%) or someone more senior (40%) as the person responsible for harassment or bullying, followed by a co-worker (33%), then someone more junior (10%). Clients, customers or stakeholders (5%) were also identified as being responsible for the harassment or bullying of APS employees.

The most commonly identified factor on which harassment or bullying was perceived to be based was personality differences (46%), followed by work performance (30%). Other factors included age (9%), gender (9%), employment status (8%) and race/ethnicity (5%).

Analysis of responses to the employee census shows a relationship between employee experiences of harassment or bullying and employee engagement. Employees who reported being subjected to harassment or bullying were significantly more likely to have lower engagement levels.

Employees who said they had been bullied were slightly more likely to have used sick leave in the fortnight preceding the employee census (32% of employees who reported having been bullied had done so, compared with 26% of employees who said they were not bullied). Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees who said they had been bullied were more likely to report an intention to leave their agency as soon as possible or in the next 12 months (37% of employees who reported being bullied, compared with 18% of other employees).

Employees who reported experiencing harassment or bullying were also less likely than other employees to consider their colleagues, supervisors and SES leaders acted in accordance with the APS Values.

Employees who said they had been bullied were more likely to have reported that their immediate work group had been directly affected by major workplace changes in the last 12 months (20% reporting workplace change also said they had been bullied; 12% who had not experienced change reported bullying).

International research points to a range of factors associated with the likelihood of employees feeling harassed and bullied at work. These include organisational change; lack of ‘humanity’ or civility in the workplace; employees feeling they are expendable; perceived or actual lack of organisational justice; dictatorial management; conflicting demands; financial pressure; and limited resources.23 These factors can put pressure on organisations and individuals; erode employee engagement and commitment; and perpetuate a culture of defensiveness and intransigence.

Reporting incidents

Of the employees who indicated they had been subjected to harassment or bullying, only 43% reported it. Common reasons cited for not doing so included that employees24:

  • believed that no action would be taken (50%)
  • were fearful it could affect their career (40%)
  • did not wish to upset relationships in the workplace (39%)
  • did not think it was worth the hassle of going through the report process (34%).

For those who reported an incident of harassment or bullying they had experienced, few employees were satisfied with the outcome (22%). Employees who reported an incident and who were not satisfied with action taken as a result cited the following reasons for their dissatisfaction25:

  • agency did not take effective action (63%)
  • managers accepted the behaviour (52%)
  • employee continued to harass or bully others (50%)
  • their working relationships were negatively affected (43%).

Further work

Despite the work undertaken by the Commission and within agencies, the incidence of harassment and bullying reported by APS employees remains unacceptable.

Following the release of the report of the House of Representatives inquiry into workplace bullying, the Commission will examine its findings for identified risk factors and recommendations for strategies that may assist APS workplaces to reduce harassment and bullying.

Relationships with ministers and their offices

Similar to last year, 75% of agencies reported providing regular (monthly or more often) services and advice to ministers and/or their offices during 2011–12. All large agencies provided such services and advice, compared with 71% of medium agencies and 65% of small agencies.

Agencies reported on their efforts to promote the following guidelines to their staff:

  • Standards of Ministerial Ethics (December 2007, updated September 2010). Sixty-one per cent of large agencies indicated they promoted the standards fully or partially to their staff, while only 32% of medium and 13% of small agencies indicated they promoted the standards. Seven per cent of agencies indicated they were developing promotional strategies.
  • Register of Lobbyists (May 2008). Sixty-five per cent of large agencies indicated they promoted the register fully or partially to their staff, while only 32% of medium and 13% of small agencies indicated they promoted the register. Four per cent of agencies indicated they were developing promotional strategies.
  • Lobbying Code of Conduct (May 2008, updated June 2011). Sixty-one per cent of large agencies indicated they promoted the lobbying code fully or partially to their staff, while 41% of medium and only 17% of small agencies indicated they promoted the code. Four per cent of agencies indicated they were developing promotional strategies.
  • Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff(July 2008). Sixty-five per cent of large agencies indicated they promoted this code fully or partially to their staff, while only 27% of medium and 17% of small agencies indicated they promoted the code. Four per cent of agencies indicated they were developing promotional strategies.

Among other requirements, the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff requires that staff working in ministerial offices ‘Treat with respect and courtesy all those with whom they have contact in the course of their employment.’26 In 2011–12, less than 0.06% of APS employees reported being bullied by a minister or ministerial adviser.

Effective government relies on professional relationships between agencies and their ministers. The role of the APS is to serve the government of the day and to provide the same high standard of policy advice, implementation and professional support, irrespective of which political party is in power. This is at the core of the professionalism of the APS.

Following the publication of a book in September 2012 by a former public servant reflecting on his time in the public service from late 2008 to early 2010 as a speechwriter, and containing descriptions of his discussions with a former Prime Minister, the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Public Service Commissioner released a statement which said, among other things:

The unauthorised disclosure of such conversations is, in our view, corrosive to the relationship of trust that must exist between ministers and the APS. Preservation of this relationship is essential in maintaining the APS's tradition of impartiality and its reputation for being apolitical and professional.

… the public service operates within ethical codes, including respect for the ministerial office and the secrecy that allows sensitive decisions to be made with confidence ...

Open government

Open government involves creating the framework for mature, informed debate about government's role and the participative development of government policies and services. In July 2010 the government published the Declaration of Open Government27, which states that:

The Australian Government now declares that, in order to promote greater participation in Australia's democracy, it is committed to open government based on a culture of engagement, built on better access to and use of government held information, and sustained by the innovative use of technology.

The government has established mechanisms for open and honest discussion with stakeholders and citizens, such as community cabinets, and specific consultations on policies and services. This takes place through traditional face-to-face meetings and submission processes, which are augmented or sometimes replaced by the use of social media.

The new set of APS Values in the Public Service Amendment Bill 2012 before parliament includes a new value—‘Respectful: The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.’ This proposed value proposes to support, through binding Directions issued by the Public Service Commissioner on its scope and application, the notion of collaboration and being open to ideas in policy development and implementation.

The APS Reform Blueprint included Recommendation 2.1, to ‘enable citizens to collaborate with government in policy and service design’.28

Managing stakeholder relationships

Agency and employee perceptions of their relationships with stakeholders were sought for this year's State of the Service report. Agencies were asked about demands on the time their agency head and/or executive spent in managing sensitive stakeholder relationships over the past three years. Employees were asked whether responsibility at their classification level in this area had changed over the past five years.

Thirty-two per cent of agencies indicated that demands on the time their agency head and/or executive spent managing sensitive stakeholder relationships had increased greatly over the past three years and another 53% indicated a slight increase. Only 15% of agencies indicated no change.

Sixteen per cent of employees who had been at their current substantive classification level for at least five years reported that responsibility for managing sensitive stakeholder relationships at their level had increased greatly over that time and another 28% indicated a slight increase. Of these, more than 60% of SES employees indicated that their responsibility for managing sensitive stakeholder relationships had increased at their classification level. Forty-four per cent of employees reported no significant change, while 12% indicated a decrease.

Gov 2.0

Social media and networking tools have changed the way people communicate and also their expectations about the speed with which others, including government, will respond. This provides opportunities, challenges and risks for all. It fundamentally changes how government and the APS do business.

APS-wide guidance

In May 2010 the government published its response to the final report of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0.29 Among other things the Taskforce commented that:

… online engagement by public servants, involving robust professional discussion as part of their duties or as private citizens, benefits their agencies, their professional development, those with whom they are engaged and the Australian public. This engagement should be enabled and encouraged.

Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to assist the government to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. Many agencies use social media to engage with the communities they serve.

On 10 January 2012, the Commission updated its guidance for APS employees on participating online in official and unofficial capacities, noting additional considerations for doing so. The guidance advises that the APS Values and Code of Conduct, including Public Service Regulation 2.1, apply to using online media in the same way as when participating in any other public forum. The requirements include:

  • behaving with respect and courtesy, and without harassment
  • dealing appropriately with information, recognising that some information needs to remain confidential
  • delivering services fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously to the Australian public
  • being sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public
  • taking reasonable steps to avoid conflicts of interest
  • making proper use of Australian Government resources
  • upholding the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS
  • not acting in a way that would call into question the APS employee's ability to be apolitical, impartial and professional in the performance of their duties.30

The Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance) maintains a Gov 2.0 Primer31 that describes scenarios and tools which apply to agency government 2.0 activities, including engaging with the public and releasing government data online. While it is not a comprehensive guide, the primer assists agencies achieve the aims stated in the government's July 2010 Declaration of Open Government. Finance has also developed guidance for using social media32 for its employees entitled Social Media 101: A Beginner's Guide for Finance Employees which may be a useful start for other agencies developing or updating their guidance.

Availability and use of social media in agencies

Eight per cent of employees indicated that access was available to all social media in their agency and another 28% indicated that access was available to some social media. Forty-eight per cent indicated no access.

Forty-six per cent of employees with access to some or all social media tools reported that they used social media and networking tools for work purposes. Sixty-eight per cent who used social media and networking tools to work with government stakeholders agreed that the use of these tools helped them carry out their work more effectively and 70% who used these tools in their work with non-government stakeholders agreed they helped them work more effectively. Levels of disagreement were low (6% and 4% respectively) and 26% were neutral on the benefits of using social media in their work.

An emerging issue for APS employees, associated with increasing use in the Australian community of social media and other networking tools, is cyberbullying of employees by members of the public. In recent months the Commission has been approached by several APS agencies seeking advice in circumstances where employees have been the target of adverse comments by clients on social media websites. In some of these cases employees were abused online by clients dissatisfied with their agency's services; however, the statements made tended to be of a highly personal nature.

Very few APS employees (1%) reported being subjected to cyberbullying in the past 12 months as a result of their APS work. Recent media reports show, however, that the abuse of people using Twitter can have a devastating impact on the person who is the target of the attacks. For the few APS employees who reported being cyberbullied, other APS employees were most commonly cited as being responsible (50% of incidents), followed by members of the general public (29%) and then clients, customers and stakeholders (23%).

Levels of perceived bullying and harassment in the APS, and strategies to deal with these, have been discussed earlier in this chapter. In relation to harassment by clients, the Commission is working with a group of APS agencies to develop an understanding of the nature and scope of cyberbullying in the APS and to consider strategies that may be useful for agencies in managing the impacts of this behaviour on agencies' business and, importantly, their employees.

Agency guidance and training on the use of social media

Of the agencies asked33, 88% indicated they provided guidance material for their employees on the use of social media and networking tools, and the remaining 12% indicated such guidance was under development. Table 3.6 details the specific areas of guidance provided by agencies.

Table 3.6 Agency guidance on the use of social media, 2011–12
Type of guidance Agencies (%)

Source: Agency survey

Note: Agencies with less than 100 employees were not asked this question.

Guidance on how to represent yourself online (e.g. in accordance with the APS Code of Conduct) when using social media and networking tools for work purposes 65
Guidance on how to represent yourself online (e.g. in accordance with the APS Code of Conduct) when using social media and networking tools for other personal or home use (not including professional network participation) 54
Guidance on how to represent yourself online (e.g. in accordance with the APS Code of Conduct) when using social media and networking tools as a participant in a professional network for non-job related purposes 46
Guidance provided as part of more general information technology guidance 45
Technical guidance on how to use social media and networking tools 36
Being developed 12

Agencies reported on the provision of training to their staff in 2011–12 on the use of social media and networking tools for work purposes. Forty-one per cent indicated they provided such training, another 17% indicated they were developing training and 35% reported that no training was provided.

Employees were asked about their awareness of their agency's policy on the use of social media and networking tools. Sixty-three per cent indicated they were aware of their agency's policy for work purposes and 54% were aware of a policy for personal or home use. Thirty per cent of employees indicated they were unsure if their agency had a policy for work use and 36% were unsure if their agency had a policy for personal or home use. Six per cent of employees indicated their agency did not have a policy for work use of social media and networking tools and 10% indicated there was no policy for personal or home use.

Agency use of social media

The use of Web 2.0 is now commonplace in APS agencies. There are hundreds of government social media sites, including Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and YouTube channels. Web 2.0 approaches are regularly used in policy development opportunities and many Australian Government datasets are included on data.gov.au with more being added regularly.34

Agencies were asked a series of open questions about their experiences with using social media. The following case studies have been drawn from the answers provided. They illustrate the issues and benefits for agencies in using social media to connect with their communities and the broader public.

Department of Defence: Review of Social Media and Defence

The Department of Defence (Defence) identified that its social media policy and guidance needed to be refreshed to accommodate changes in the rapidly evolving social media environment. Further, the department identified a need for a more coordinated approach to media in general, including its use of social media.

Defence engaged consultants to undertake the Review of Social Media and Defence.35 The review had lessons and recommendations for Defence with respect to governance, the suitability of extant policy, training and the availability of resources to support departmental engagement with social media.

In response to the review, Defence is currently amending its policy guidance, developing more effective approaches to social media engagement and monitoring and developing appropriate training programs for staff.

National Museum of Australia: Inside exhibition

The National Museum of Australia used a blog to consult with Forgotten Australians and other stakeholders for its Inside: Life in Children's Homes and Institutions exhibition, launched in November 2011. The Museum indicated that the blog was an excellent consultation tool and many participants reported feeling empowered to tell their stories for the first time. Engagement was high and the quality of community posts was very high. The posts ranged from narratives to poetry, photographs, videos, artwork and other media.

The social media tools were crucial to the success of the exhibition and engagement of the community. The blog was used to reach out to affected members of the community, obtain objects and images, and source personal quotes, some of which formed the major mode of text in the exhibition.

The blog has been archived and remains a significant record of experiences, reflections and stories.

ATO: YouTube Tax Tips

The ATO used YouTube to enhance service delivery to taxpayers. During tax time in 2011 the ATO produced Tax Tip videos presented by high-profile financial commentators to provide useful advice and information to taxpayers about preparing and completing individual tax returns. Another video, ‘Do I need to lodge?’, was produced to assist taxpayers with the decision process about lodging an income tax return. These videos combined have received more than 73,000 views.

Public sector information

The APS Reform Blueprint also recommended that public sector data be made available to the wider public in a manner consistent with privacy and secrecy laws (Recommendation 2.1).

On 1 November 2010, reforms were made to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to improve public access to information and ensure it is provided promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost.

A key aim of the reforms is to increase recognition that information held by government is a national resource to be managed for public purposes. Under the Information Publication Scheme, which came into effect on 1 May 2011, government agencies are required to publish a range of documents on their websites and encouraged to publish additional information over and above that required by the Freedom of Information Act.

In May 2012, government agencies36 were surveyed by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner on their compliance with the new publishing requirements. Seventy-eight per cent of agencies participated in the non-compulsory survey.

Overall, the research concluded that agencies are moving closer to an open access and pro-disclosure culture.37 The Australian Information Commissioner noted satisfaction that 85% of agencies publish the required categories of information on their websites, with 94% publishing operational information showing how decisions that affect the public are made.38

Agencies were asked to report on which of the principles on open public sector information was most challenging to implement. Thirty per cent of agencies reported making information discoverable and useable the most challenging principle to implement, 28% reported that providing open access to information was most challenging and 17% reported robust information asset management.39

Key chapter findings

Australia continues to maintain its high standing internationally in perceptions of the quality and independence of its public services and the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain. In so far as these results can be attributed to the APS they reflect positively on its integrity.

Misconduct remains at very low levels across the APS, with less than three employees in 1,000 found to have breached the Code of Conduct. Most breaches are evidence of poor individual judgement, rather than systemic misbehaviour, maladministration or corruption. These findings are contrary to a small number of media reports published during the year. However, there is no room for complacency and APS agencies need to remain vigilant in managing their corruption risks, adjusting risk management strategies in light of their changing risk environments.

The incidence of perceived bullying and harassment in the APS remains at a worrying level. The findings of the employee census are informative, but raise further questions. The results suggest an apparently strong relationship between behaviour perceived as harassment or bullying and the management of people and performance which may also suggest that supervisory relationships in the APS are not always well-managed or well-understood by the parties involved, especially in the area of performance management.

In addition to raising questions about managers and performance management, the employee census also identified ‘personality differences’ as a key factor in perceived workplace harassment and bullying.

Taken together the evidence suggests that workplace bullying may arise in large part from differences of opinion or simple personality clashes that have been allowed to escalate. It would be premature, however, to draw conclusive inferences about the causes of actual and perceived bullying and harassment in the APS. Further work in this area is required to understand this complex behaviour and, hence, how to develop and implement the best strategies for addressing it.

Building and maintaining a constructive relationship with ministers and their offices is a key responsibility of APS employees. Consistently working to the APS Values is crucial to such relationships, as is a sound appreciation of respective roles. Ministers must be able to trust the public servants they work with; if they cannot do so the APS risks becoming less reliable as a source of information and advice. It is important for agencies to ensure their induction processes properly reflect the importance of managing this key relationship, retaining trust and ensuring that tensions that may impede constructive discussion with ministers and their staff are raised and dealt with early, particularly where staff have regular contact with ministers and their offices.

While access to social media and networking tools by employees for work purposes does not appear to be widespread, employees using it report positively on its effectiveness. The proportion of agencies reporting they have provided guidance for their employees on the use of social media and networking tools is high.

Cultural change seems to be more easily achieved in the release of public sector information, with 85% of agencies publishing the required categories of information under the Information Publication Scheme on their websites.

1 Section 15(3) procedures are the procedures established by the agency head in accordance with section 15(3) of the Act for determining whether an APS employee in the agency has breached the Code of Conduct.

2 A total of 278 investigations were finalised in the Department of Human Services; 135 in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship; 123 in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO); and 96 in the Department of Defence.

3 The Public Service Amendment Bill 2012, introduced into parliament on 1 March 2012, contains a technical amendment to the Act to make it clear that misconduct processes can continue even when an employee resigns. Among other things, this should reduce the incidence of employees resigning to avoid a finding of misconduct, only to apply for employment in other APS agencies.

4 OECD, Principles for Managing Ethics in the Public Service, (1998).

5 Large agencies account for 85% of whistleblowing reports, with the ATO and Defence together accounting for 67% of all reports.

6 Serious breach of the Code of Conduct was defined for the purpose of this question as fraud, theft, misusing clients' personal information, sexual harassment, leaking classified documentation or other behaviour that would be likely to result in termination of employment.

7 Employees were able to nominate more than one reason.

8 Employees were able to nominate more than one reason.

9 It is possible that action was taken by the agencies but those reporting suspected misconduct would not be advised to protect the privacy of those involved.

10 Australian Public Service Commission, Handling Misconduct: A human resources practitioner's guide to the reporting and handling of suspected and determined breaches of the APS Code of Conduct, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2008).

11 Australian Public Service Commission, Not just about process: the review of actions scheme, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

12 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010), p. 46.

13 The Parliamentary Joint Committee's report on the inquiry into the operation of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006.

14 The Sydney Morning Herald ran investigative reports by Linton Besser and others into suspected corruption in the APS.

15 Australian National Audit Office, Annual Report 2011–12, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012), p. 4.

16 This figure excludes APS Code of Conduct matters and review applications considered by a Promotion Review Committee.

17 Safe Work Australia, Model Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2011).

18 The Committee's terms of reference

19 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment: Workplace Bullying Public Hearing 10 July 2012, Opening Remarks, (2012).

20 Section 10(1)(j), Public Service Act 1999.

21 Examples of verbal abuse provided in the employee census include offensive language, derogatory remarks, shouting or screaming.

22 Examples provided in the employee census include performance management, access to leave, access to learning and development.

23 A Hogh, C Jorgensen and AS Fedders, The 8th International Conference on Workplace Bullying and Harassment—Future Challenges, Copenhagen, (2012).

24 Employees were able to nominate more than one reason.

25 Employees were able to nominate more than one reason.

26 Unavailable

27 Department of Finance and Deregulation, Declaration of Open Government, (2010),

28 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010), p. 39.

29 Government 2.0 Taskforce, Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0,Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012), p. xvii.

30 Australian Public Service Commission, Circular 2012/1: Revisions to the Commission's Guidenace on making Public Comment and Participating Online, (2012),

31 Australian Government, Gov 2.0 Primer,

32 Department of Finance and Deregulation, Social Media 101: A Beginner's Guide for Finance Employees, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

33 The full review report is available here.

34 Australian Government, Social Media, Australian Government

35The full report is available at www.defence.gov.au/pathwaytochange

36 The survey was sent to 243 Australian Government agencies covered by the Financial Management and Accountability Act (1997), the Commonwealth Authorities and Corporations Act (1997) or other legislation.

37 Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Open Public Sector Information: Government in Transition, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

38 Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Media Release:Open Government Reforms Create More Transparency’, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

39 Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Open Public Sector Information: Government in Transition, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

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