APS frameworks: values, integrity and conduct
APS employees occupy a position of trust. They are entrusted by the government and the community to undertake important work on their behalf. This trust mandates a high level of responsibility which should be matched by the highest standards of ethical behaviour from each APS employee.
Together the APS Values, the APS Employment Principles, and the APS Code of Conduct set out the standard of behaviour expected of all APS employees.
The continued effectiveness of the APS relies on workplaces fostering organisational cultures that enable the highest standards of integrity, transparency, accountability and trust. Agencies must have processes, procedures and systems in place that support continuing ethical behaviour.
Results from the APS employee census continue to demonstrate that most APS employees agree that their senior leaders, immediate supervisors and colleagues act in accordance with the APS Values. As shown in Figure 5, the vast majority of respondents to the 2016 census report that their colleagues and supervisors always or often act in accordance with the APS Values in their everyday work. Importantly, only 68 per cent of respondents said the same of their SES. However, it should be noted that 15 per cent were unsure how their SES act.
Figure 5: Perceptions of adherence to the APS Values, 2016
Source: 2016 APS employee census
Breaches of the APS Code of Conduct
An important element of integrity in the APS is the reporting and investigation of allegations of misconduct by APS employees. The level of serious misconduct in the APS continues to remain low. The number of APS Code of Conduct breaches investigated in 2015–16 is comparable to the number of investigations conducted in past years.
In 2015–16, agencies reported finalising Code of Conduct investigations for 717 employees, an increase when compared with 557 in the previous year. The proportion of investigations that found the Code of Conduct had been breached increased to 87 per cent in 2015–16 from 85 per cent in 2014–15. A failure to behave in accordance with the APS Values and Employment Principles, and thus to uphold the integrity and good reputation of the employee's agency and the APS, continued to be the most common alleged breach.
The most common sanction applied for a breach in 2015–16 was a reprimand. The second most common sanction was a reduction in salary. The employment of 87 employees was terminated as a sanction for a breach of the Code of Conduct in 2015–16, compared to 81 employees in 2014–15.
Bullying and harassment
The APS Code of Conduct requires employees to treat everyone with respect and courtesy and without harassment.
Workplace bullying continues to be a concern in the APS. Data from the APS employee census demonstrates that consistently over the past decade, between 15 per cent and 18 per cent of respondents reported that they had been bullied or harassed in the workplace. Bullying could be by a client, a colleague, a manager or a combination. This year, 16 per cent of responding APS employees report that they had been bullied or harassed in their workplaces in the 12 months prior to the employee census.
Sixty-seven per cent of those respondents who indicated that they had been bullied or harassed said that at least one of the offenders was a manager. Co-workers were responsible in just 36 per cent of incidents, while 9 per cent said that they were bullied or harassed by someone more junior and 5 per cent nominated someone external to the agency.
The experience of bullying and harassment is often a subjective one. What is perceived as harassment by one person may be proper management action to another. Given that, the reported level of bullying and harassment needs to be treated with some caution.
Harassment remains a real concern and is usually investigated as a suspected breach of the Code of Conduct. The subjective experience of harassment, and the difficulty of proving allegations, may provide an explanation for the relatively low proportion of Code of Conduct investigations that lead to a finding that harassment has occurred.
APS leaders are committed to safe and healthy workplaces. Tools and resources are being developed for APS managers and employees to create workplaces that are free from bullying and harassment.
In 2015–16, agencies advised that 106 of the 717 finalised Code of Conduct investigations involved corrupt behaviour. The types of corrupt behaviour included inappropriate recording of flex time credits, misuse of personal leave to undertake paid employment, conflict of interest on selection panels, theft, and misuse of duties to gain a personal benefit.
APS employees were asked if they had witnessed and reported perceived corruption in their workplaces. For the purposes of the APS employee census, corruption in the APS was defined 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.
In the 2016 APS employee census, 4 per cent of responding employees report that they had witnessed another employee engaging in behaviour they considered met this description. Sixty-seven per cent of these employees reported that they had witnessed cronyism, 26 per cent had witnessed nepotism and 22 per cent had witnessed APS employees acting, or failing to act, in the presence of undisclosed conflicts of interest. Of the employees who indicated that they had witnessed corruption in their workplaces, 33 per cent reported the behaviour.
Given the relatively small number of investigations reported by agencies for corrupt behaviour, it is likely that this misconduct reported by employees did not usually amount to criminal misconduct. It may, for example, represent employees who feel that a selection process was not conducted properly.
There is, nonetheless, no room for complacency and the Commission is working to support agencies in ensuring that workplace cultures support high levels of integrity. Agencies continue to develop and apply their own policies and procedures for managing risks and dealing with reports of corruption or other forms of misconduct.