Integrity, I think is so important to all of the work that we do as public servants. It actually is the core of who we are. If we go back to our APS value of ethical, it talks about the fact that APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity in all that it does. So it’s vital to who we are as public servants. We act with integrity in everything that we do.55
Jaala Hinchcliffe, Integrity Commissioner, head of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, and APS Academy Faculty member for Integrity
The APS has surged to meet the demands required to fast-track policy and deliver services that affect all aspects of Australian life. For the APS to be effective in this work, the community needs to trust that it will deliver in the public interest—both the ‘quality of what is delivered and how delivery is achieved is crucial to that trust’.56
Citizen perceptions of Government integrity is the strongest determinant of trust.57 As such, a pro-integrity culture that reflects the highest standards of professionalism is key to building this trust in the APS. Pro-integrity involves embedding a culture of ‘doing the right thing at the right time’ into an organisation so it is a core consideration of all it does—from the conduct of its individual employees, to its systems and practices.
Personal integrity may guide individual professionalism, but a pro-integrity culture provides assurance that all APS employees and their agencies are accountable and consistent in their decisions and actions. Strengthening the pro-integrity culture delivers several benefits to APS agencies by producing better decision-making, exemplifying high professional standards, enhancing public trust in the APS, and protecting against misconduct.
In line with the Government’s commitment to reinforce an APS-wide integrity culture, the APSC commissioned Mr Stephen Sedgwick AO to analyse how to strengthen integrity across the APS. Mr Sedgwick’s Report into consultations regarding APS approaches to institutional integrity58 was released in December 2020. The report concluded that the APS operates within robust integrity frameworks and that there was no need for major changes to the compliance framework. The report’s recommendations focused on enhancing awareness, capability, and accountability in recognition of the importance of constant reinforcement of the APS’s integrity culture. The Secretaries Board endorsed all recommendations.
To implement the recommendations, and to support the APSC’s broader focus on fostering trust in public service integrity, the APSC is developing practical initiatives that focus on awareness raising, capability development and accountability. This includes the ongoing development of guidance and educational materials to support staff to uphold integrity and navigate ethical scenarios. Resources, including fact sheets, guides and a podcast series are in development. In March 2021, the APSC launched mandatory integrity training for new APS employees, and is now developing a masterclass series to support SES in fostering an integrity culture. The APSC is also working to highlight the importance of integrity as a capability in leadership and capability development frameworks.
Managing unacceptable behaviour
Unacceptable behaviours, such as harassment or bullying, are not tolerated in the APS and are contrary to the APS Values and Code of Conduct. The APS monitors and actively works to eliminate incidents of these negative acts.
The proportion of respondents to the APS Employee Census experiencing harassment or bullying has decreased year-on-year, from 17.2% in 2015 to 11.7% in 2021.59 However, the most common types of harassment or bullying have remained the same—verbal abuse, interference with work tasks such as undermining or sabotage, and inappropriate and unfair application of work policies or rules.
The number of recorded complaints of harassment and bullying made by APS employees has increased over previous years (422 recorded complaints in 2018–19; 531 in 2019–20; 588 in 2020–21). In line with this increase, the number of recorded complaints of sexual harassment more than doubled from 32 in 2019–20 to 78 in 2020–21.
There is no doubt that more work is also required to improve the reporting culture around harassment and bullying. More than half (59%) of 2021 APS Employee Census respondents who had perceived harassment or bullying in their workplace over the previous 12 months did not report their experiences. The most common reason cited by these employees was that they did not think any action would be taken (53%). Other common reasons included concerns around upsetting relationships in the workplace (45%) and that it might affect their career (43%).
Further work is needed to create a culture where those targeted feel comfortable to report and confident that swift action will be taken; a culture where bystanders also call out inappropriate behaviours so they can be addressed. A refreshed APS Gender Equality Strategy, to be released in late-2021, will strengthen the APS’s approach to preventing and responding to gender-based harassment and discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and bullying.
Alongside this refreshed strategy, there will be new annual reporting from APS agencies on gender equality measures to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) from 2022–23. This action is in response to a recommendation in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report.60 A cross-agency pilot has commenced with the Department of Finance, Department of the Treasury, the Fair Work Ombudsman, WGEA and the APSC to work through the data to be reported, and will include information on policies and training relating to gender-based harassment and discrimination. This reporting will enable the APS to better understand and track progress against key metrics of workplace gender equality and benchmark performance against other entities. It will aid in identifying gender equality challenges so that action can be taken to address these.
Public trust in government
Alongside many other public services across the world, the APS workforce is affected by the changing public expectations and demands of Government services, as well as trust in public institutions.61 Trust in the public service is founded on visibility of integrity in action. Trust in public institutions and government can also be earned by improving citizens’ experience when interacting with public services.62 A diverse workforce can also enhance people’s trust by bringing different perspectives and skill sets to contribute to public interactions and designing solutions to policy challenges.63
The Citizen Experience Survey,64 administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), is a regular, national survey measuring citizens’ experience with services delivered by the APS. Survey results indicate that perceptions of trust improved through 2020 and early 2021 (trust in public services was 66% in February 2021). This was followed by a slight decline in mid-2021 (61% in June 2021), a trend seen in other nations.65 Despite the slight decline, trust continues to remain higher than pre-COVID-19 levels (57% in February 2020). Positively, respondents with more complex service experiences retained higher levels of trust and more than half of those surveyed in June 2021 agreed that services were easy to access and efficient in reaching an outcome. Recent independent research confirms that over the past two years, the public sector has improved the citizen experience at twice the rate of the market average.66
Public trust in Australia’s economic response to COVID
In January 2020, while flying back from the United States to start her new job at the Department of the Treasury, Jenny Wilkinson pondered the increasing chatter she was hearing in the media about a virus in China.
The next month, the world shifted dramatically. Jenny was not sure what the global COVID-19 pandemic would mean—for the world, for Australia, for policy or for health, or for her staff. “The organisation was genuinely and deeply grappling with it,” recalls Jenny. “It was certainly a baptism of fire for me.”
Jenny Wilkinson PSM
By March, the Government was announcing Australia’s health and economic response.
In June 2021, Jenny received a Public Service Medal, ‘for outstanding public service in the development of fiscal policy, particularly in the formulation of the Australian Government’s economic response to COVID-19’.
The way policy and services are delivered has an impact on the public’s trust in government. Looking back on 2020, Jenny sees a few standout moments that may have contributed to a rise in this trust. “All jurisdictions stepped up to the challenge. Federal, state and territory governments all recognised they had to address a completely new situation. We saw leaders trying to be open and transparent with the public on what they were trying to do and how they were doing it, but also pretty transparent about the inherent uncertainties. There is a need for both those elements to build trust.”
“What I hope the APS takes from this, and learns from this episode, is how effectively we can all work together—when we trust each other, and when we think genuinely and carefully about designing holistic responses when challenges emerge.”
55Jaala Hinchcliffe, Integrity Commissioner and head of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. (2021).
IPAA Integrity Series Podcast Episode #1. 2 September.
56Sedgwick, S. (2020). Report into consultations regarding APS approaches to institutional integrity. 16 December.
57Murtin, F., et al. (2018). Trust and its determinants: Evidence from the Trustlab experiment. OECD Statistics Working Papers (No. 2018/02). 30 June.
58Sedgwick, S. (2020). Report into consultations regarding APS approaches to institutional integrity. 16 December.
592021 APS Employee Census.
60Australian Human Rights Commission. (2020). Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report. 5 March.
61Boston Consulting Group. (2018). Scenarios for 2030: A report for the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service (APS). 1 October.
62Kumagai, S. and Iorio, F. (2020). Building Trust in Government through Citizen Engagement. n.d.
63Nolan-Flecha, N. (2019). Next generation diversity and inclusion policies in the public service: Ensuring public services reflect the societies they serve. OECD Working Papers on Public Governance (No. 34). 7 November.
64PM&C. (2021). 2020–2021 Citizen Experience Results Summary. n.d.
65OECD. (2021). Government at a Glance 2021. 9 July.
66KPMG. (2021). Customer experience excellence report. 9 November.