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Case D: Conflict of interest

She forwarded an e-mail containing sensitive material about the Draft Declaration of Rights for Indigenous People to her daughter. She also sent four e-mails to a friend in Mutitjulu about dysfunction in outback Indigenous communities at a time when these issues were sensitive and the Australian Government was considering its response.

Public Service Regulation 2.1 forbids the unlawful disclosure of certain sensitive information by Australian Public Service employees. A failure to comply with regulation 2.1 can lead to a prosecution under section 70(1) of the Crimes Act 1914.

Ms G was charged under that Act with seven counts of unlawful disclosure by a Commonwealth officer. In 2008, a jury in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory found her guilty on five counts. She was placed on a good behaviour bond for three years and given a substantial fine.

Lessons

  • Conflicts of interest don't arise only from financial or property interests. Any situation that creates competing responsibilities can give rise to a conflict.
  • Managers and employees alike need to be sensitive to the possibility of conflicts of interest, and take early and continuing steps to manage them properly.
  • Integrity protocols need to address potential conflicts of interest, as well as fraud and corruption risks.