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Inquiries into breaches of the Code of Conduct

In July 2013, the PS Act was amended to enable the Merit Protection Commissioner to inquire into and determine whether an APS employee or a former employee has breached the Code of Conduct (section 50A). The request is made by the agency head and must have the written agreement of the APS employee or former employee.

A performance objective in 2015–16 was to establish and promote the Code of Conduct inquiry statutory function as a credible service for agencies. The performance indicators were:

  • Agencies have indicated that they will reuse the service.
  • Agency feedback is positive.
  • The service is provided cost effectively and by the end of 2016–17 is fully cost recovered.

The objective of the inquiry service was to deliver high-quality statutory outcomes within acceptable timeframes, with the Office being viewed as a centre of excellence. The service was expected to be particularly useful for small agencies with limited inquiry skills and resources.

The initial challenges were to raise awareness of the potential service and to recruit suitable inquiry officers. As the agencies that were canvassed indicated a need for such a service, the Office of the Merit Protection Commissioner advertised for suitably skilled inquiry officers and established a temporary employment register.

The first case was accepted in October 2015. In total, five cases were received during 2015–16 with one being withdrawn as the employee did not consent to the inquiry. In the two finalised cases, the Merit Protection Commissioner determined that the employee or former employee had breached the Code of Conduct. The misconduct involved inappropriate use of social media and discourteous behaviour towards team members. Two cases were on hand at 30 June 2016.

Feedback from agencies on the timeliness and quality of the inquiry work and decision-making has been very positive. Based on its performance in 2015–16, the Merit Protection Commissioner is confident that the Code inquiry function provides a specific service, is sustainable and addresses agency needs.

'Our agency recently utilised the services of the MPC to undertake two complex investigations and breach determinations under their new service. The opportunity to use a professional independent service to undertake the investigations was highly beneficial and the overall outcomes for our agency were positive.'

(Feedback from HR practitioner, 2016)

Independent selection advisory committees and fee-for-service activity

The Merit Protection Commissioner establishes independent selection advisory committees (ISACs) to assist agency recruitment decision-making. ISACs are independent, three-member committees that undertake a staff selection exercise on behalf of an agency and make recommendations about the relative suitability of candidates for jobs at the APS 1–6 classifications.

An ISAC consists of a convenor nominated by the Merit Protection Commissioner and two members, one nominated by the Merit Protection Commissioner and one nominated by the agency head. ISACs work within agency recruitment policies and have the flexibility to accommodate a range of selection assessment techniques.

Agencies may choose to use ISACs for a variety of reasons. The most common ones are to provide assurance about the fairness and integrity of their recruitment decisions and to avoid delays in placing staff resulting from review of promotion decisions. ISAC processes have been streamlined to ensure that the service is professional and cost-effective for agencies.

'A brief note of personal thanks for your commitment and focus in progressing the recent APS 4 recruitment exercise. For an ISAC process, I was impressed and assured with the level of energy sustained by the selection advisory committee throughout to complete the recruitment in a timely manner.'

(Email from agency to ISAC members, 2016)

Agency demand for ISACs increased in 2015–16. This reflected the overall upturn in APS recruitment following the removal of the 'interim recruitment arrangements' at the end of June 2015. Six agencies used ISACs. The six ISACs finalised in 2015–16 considered 1,293 candidates and recommended 326—an average of 215 candidates and 54 recommendations per ISAC.
The largest recruitment exercise was 675 candidates for positions in the Department of Defence.

Table M9 in the appendix provides information on ISAC activity for 2015–16 compared with that for 2014–15.

Other fee-for-service work

In accordance with regulation 7.4, the Merit Protection Commissioner is able to provide other fee-for-service activities such as staff selection services and investigating grievances to non-APS agencies. In recent years, this work has consisted of providing members of selection panels for the Australian Federal Police. In 2015–16, there were inquiries for recruitment services but no work commenced. However, during June 2016, one non-APS agency was working with the Merit Protection Commissioner to finalise a memorandum of understanding for the provision of services.

Norfolk Island fee-for-service activity

In August 2015, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development approached the Acting Merit Protection Commissioner about undertaking a short-term appointment as Norfolk Island Public Service Commissioner. Under the Norfolk Island Public Service Act 2014, the Public Service Commissioner provides an independent review and appeals function for Norfolk Island public servants.

In December 2015, the Merit Protection Commissioner, Ms Godwin, agreed to accept the appointment, which ended on 30 June 2016. Ms Godwin was not remunerated for the role; however, staffing and administrative services associated with the performance of the Norfolk Island Public Service Commissioner functions were provided by the Commission on a cost-recovery basis under a memorandum of understanding. The workload was small and did not affect the Merit Protection Commissioner's capacity to deliver her statutory functions. Acceptance of the role provided assurance to Norfolk Island public service employees during the period of transition and therefore was of assistance to the Commonwealth during the period of transition.