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Key findings

The events of the last year indicate that while levels of corruption and serious misconduct in the APS remain low, the risks remain real. The preliminary outcome of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity investigation into allegations of corruption in the ACBPS has served as a wake-up call across the service in several key ways.

These events remind us that the risks of corruption in the APS vary according to each agency's operating environment. It is critical that agencies consider their own risk profiles and take reasonable measures to mitigate risks. The ACBPS has done so in implementing its new integrity regime, a measure that responds to instances of corrupt conduct and is intended to prevent further occurrences.

The events in the ACBPS also serve as a reminder that tolerance of low-level inappropriate behaviour has the potential to undermine ethical culture in the workplace and can lead to much more serious misbehaviour.14 As the Chief of Army said earlier this year: ‘The standard you walk past is the standard you accept’, and a culture in which poor behaviour goes unremarked is one in which bad behaviour is allowed to flourish.

The ACBPS capability review also observed:

Close-knit cultures, combined with poor leadership in some regions, have also led to inadequate understanding of the role and expectations of leaders (including supervisors and team leaders), resulting in poor discipline and lack of reinforcement of expected behaviours. This type of culture can present significant risks in terms of potential opportunities for fraud, misconduct and corruption.15

These recent events also serve as a reminder of the importance of tending to ethical culture and setting clear boundaries around the behaviours and practices acceptable in the APS. The APS integrity framework was refreshed and reinforced this year with the introduction of new Values and Employment Principles, revised arrangements for handling misconduct and the new Public Interest Disclosure legislation. In embedding the new APS Values and legislation, the APS can now invigorate its ethical culture.

Many lessons can be drawn from the events in the ACBPS, but the crucial one is that the organisational culture of the APS needs safeguarding and nurturing. While preventing corruption is an important goal for Australian Government administration, a focus on corruption prevention alone is too narrow to support a robust culture of integrity. This means that employees, managers and leaders must do what is right, rather than merely avoiding doing what is wrong. The new APS Values and Employment Principles provide an opportunity for agencies to reinforce a culture of ethical awareness and integrity across the APS when embedding them into work. The APS Values and Employment Principles need hardwiring into systems, processes and procedures and should form the basis for every management decision.

Footnotes

14 Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, Operation Heritage—a joint investigation of alleged corrupt conduct among officers of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service at Sydney International Airport (Interim Report), Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2013).

15 Australian Public Service Commission, Capability Review: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2013), p. 25.