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Sect 4.10 Using Commonwealth resources

Note that this page is under review. It has not yet been updated to reflect changes to the Public Service Act 1999 and Public Service Regulations 1999, or contained in the Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions 2013, that came into effect on 1 July 2013. Agencies may continue to use the guidance for reference, but should be aware that it may not reflect current legislative requirements.

Relevant Values and elements of the Code of Conduct

APS Values

  • The APS has the highest ethical standards.

APS Code of Conduct

  • An APS employee must behave honestly and with integrity in the course of APS employment.
  • An APS employee, when acting in the course of APS employment, must comply with all applicable Australian laws.
  • An APS employee must use Commonwealth resources in a proper manner.
  • An APS employee must not make improper use of: (a) inside information or (b) the employee's duties, status, power or authority in order to gain, or seek to gain, a benefit or advantage for the employee or for any other person.

The Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act) sets the responsibilities of APS employees, regarding public money and property. In particular, under the FMA Act, agency heads must manage their agency in a way that promotes the efficient, effective and ethical use of Commonwealth resources. Also, the Crimes Act and the Criminal Code provide for penalties for destroying or damaging Commonwealth property.

APS employees must be scrupulous in the use of Commonwealth resources, including money, credit cards26, goods, services, vehicles, office equipment, official records (including electronic records) and telecommunications and information technology applications.

Commonwealth resources should not be used for private gain. However, employees may have limited private use of office equipment, for example reasonable and necessary telephone or email communication with family. Employees should be aware of agency-specific policies that outline the private use of Commonwealth equipment.

Property

Commonwealth property is to be used for official purposes and managed efficiently and effectively. Employees may have limited use of Commonwealth property for incidental purposes such as social club activities, or meetings between employees and their representatives, including unions. Lease arrangements on agency premises need to be checked before premises can be used for other purposes.

Motor vehicles

Most agencies have a number of Commonwealth vehicles available for general work use. Vehicles are available for official use only. Agency heads are responsible for developing and administering policy on the use of vehicles, including home garaging. Reimbursement may be negotiated through certified and workplace agreements.

The Executive Vehicle Scheme (EVS) provides senior executives, agency heads and public officer-holders in agencies with people employed under the PS Act access to private plated vehicles. Agency heads are responsible for developing and administering policy setting out the use of private plated vehicles. The policy is subject to the requirements of the EVS.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations' current advice on the EVS can be found at: APS Advice 02 of 2005 - Executive Vehicle Scheme.

Frequent flyer points

APS employees may join a frequent flyer scheme for official purposes. However, it is government policy that APS employees are not to obtain a personal benefit from points accrued while travelling on official business. This includes upgrading travel unless authorised by the agency to do so.

Using points privately may be a breach of the APS Code and may result in misconduct action. APS employees who redeem points after resigning or retiring may be prosecuted under the Criminal Code.

APS employees may use accrued points for official business. Some agencies may permit APS employees to purchase points on resignation or retirement as long as the arrangement was not contrived and brings genuine savings to the agency.

It is better practice for an agency to negotiate contracts with airline companies where frequent flyer points are not provided, and the contract price reflects this, as recommended by the Auditor-General in his December 2000 audit report; Management of Public Sector Travel Arrangements—Follow-up audit.

When travelling on official business, APS employees should beware of entering competitions, or lottery-style promotions, including by submitting boarding passes or business cards. Many agencies do not permit employees to accept prizes won. Some agencies allow prizes to be raffled by their social clubs, or some other arrangement whereby the agency benefits rather than the individual (see also Chapter 12: Gifts and benefits).

APS employees may privately participate in frequent flyer schemes. However, it is important employees distinguish between private and work-related travel and ensure that there is no link between the two that may result in a personal gain from work-related travel.

Equipment and consumable resources (including email and internet)

Use of equipment

Most APS employees have access to computers and other technology at work. Although this equipment is provided for official use, employees may have limited access to equipment for personal use. Employees should be aware of agency-specific policies that govern the use of office equipment, particularly office and mobile telephones. Also, the Criminal Code contains a number of offences relating to the unauthorised modification of data.

Computer software should only be copied if authorised and only for official purposes. Private software must not be used on agency systems without authorisation, as it may introduce computer viruses.

APS employees participating in political campaigns, or associated fund raising and canvassing must not use office facilities or equipment, including email or the intranet to inform staff (see Chapter 15: APS Employees as citizens).

Use of the internet and email

The widespread use of the Internet and email across the APS presents agencies with challenges about how it may impact on employee productivity, workplace harassment and network vulnerability.

While email may encourage informality and the sense of 'conversations' rather than correspondence, APS employees must understand that emails are official records and may be retrieved and be 'on the record'. Employees must take care that emails are accurate and the language and tone appropriate. Similar concerns apply to the use of SMS messages for work purposes.

Internet/intranet and email facilities are Commonwealth resources and must be used appropriately. Agencies should develop clear policies about employee use of emails and the Internet. Policies should require employees to ensure they do not breach the APS Code or bring their agency or the APS into disrepute. Policies should include information about:

  • the level of privacy employees can generally expect when using email and Internet
  • authorisation requirements for wide distribution of messages
  • the circumstances in which management may read employee emails
  • whether back-up copies are stored on the server and who has access to them
  • the fact that email may need to be produced in litigation or other investigations
  • unacceptable use of email to abuse or harass other employees and how this will be investigated and managed.

For further information, agencies should consult the Privacy Commissioner's publication Guidelines on Workplace Email, Web Browsing and Privacy.

Home use of equipment

Some agencies provide employees access to computers and other technology that enable them to work from home. Agency heads are responsible for establishing policies about working away from the office, including home-based work.

Equipment is provided for official purposes, and private use should be limited unless there are provisions that apply to an individual through an industrial or common law agreement or a determination made under s. 24(1) of the PS Act. Employees should ensure the equipment and the official information it contains are secure.

Part H of the Attorney-General's Department's Australian Government  Protective Security Manual 2005, Security Guidelines on Home-based Work provides information about the physical and information security measures agencies should take when implementing home-based work.

Monitoring and surveillance

Some agencies formally monitor the use of equipment and facilities, such as telephones and computers. It is important that this type of surveillance takes account of employees' privacy and the maintenance of good workplace relations.

When establishing monitoring policies, agencies and employees should take into account the following points:

  • in monitoring telephone use, the conversations themselves may not be monitored except for quality assurance purposes, provided the necessary notification has been given to the caller and the person answering the call, for example in call centres. Lists of numbers called must be accorded the same protection as other personal information.
  • where mail is opened centrally before distribution, employees must be informed that any personal mail addressed to the agency may be opened.
  • employees must be informed if the agency monitors the use of the Internet and email. Provisions of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1989 prohibit, with certain exemptions, the interception of a telecommunication. When developing policy the agency may need to consult the Attorney-General's Department.
  • the use of covert surveillance devices must be sanctioned by law. The Privacy Commissioner issues the Guidelines on Covert Optical Surveillance in Commonwealth Administration.

Preventing, investigating and prosecuting fraud

Fraud is defined by the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines 2002 as 'dishonestly obtaining a benefit [both tangible and intangible] by deception or other means'. The Guidelines apply to all agencies covered by the FMA Act as well as bodies covered by the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (CAC Act) that receive government funding for at least 50 per cent of their operating costs. The Guidelines are available from the Attorney-General's Department website.

The Fraud Control Guidelines outline the Commonwealth's policy and approach to fraud control. The Guidelines are the major reference on agency responsibilities, standards and fraud control mechanisms.

Fraud against the Commonwealth is a serious offence and can result in penalties under the Criminal Code. APS employees who commit fraud may face misconduct action under the PS Act. Both the FMA Act and the CAC Act also provide for penalties for the misuse of resources.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has primary responsibility to prosecute offences against Commonwealth law and to conduct related criminal assets recovery. All prosecutions and related decisions are made in accordance with the guidelines set out in the Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth.

Anyone who suspects another person of committing fraud should report the matter to a senior manager. Sometimes it may be appropriate to go directly to the agency's internal auditors or fraud investigators. APS employees who report fraud should be aware of their obligations about disclosing official information (see also Chapter 3: Managing official information and Chapter 17: Whistleblowing).

The agency should not inform an APS employee that he or she is suspected of committing fraud unless and until the investigator authorises it. However, someone suspected of committing fraud is innocent until proven guilty, and has a right to expect that the matter will not be discussed with anyone not directly involved.

The Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines require agency heads to:

  • develop a fraud control strategy which includes operational arrangements for dealing with fraud
  • conduct risk assessments and produce fraud control plans
  • investigate minor or routine allegations of fraud against their agency
  • train employees involved in fraud control
  • foster and maintain high standards of ethical behaviour
  • report fraud control activities
  • inform their Minister or presiding officer27 about relevant fraud control initiatives undertaken by the agency
  • certify, in their agency's annual report, that they are satisfied that:
    • fraud risk assessments and fraud control plans have been prepared that comply with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines
    • appropriate fraud prevention, detection, investigation and reporting procedures and processes are in place
    • annual fraud data has been collected and reported that complies with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines.

These responsibilities continue, even where a service or product is contracted out to another organisation.

Fraud and suspension and misconduct action

As well as prosecution under the Criminal Code, APS employees who commit fraud are in breach of the APS Code and may be subject to suspension with or without pay and misconduct action under the PS Act.

Where an employee's behaviour is both a breach of the Code and a criminal offence, misconduct action need not be delayed until criminal processes have been completed. Agencies should seek advice from the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions before alerting an employee of any allegations of misconduct. A key consideration is the need to avoid prejudicing the criminal process.

If there is some risk of prejudicing the criminal proceedings, agencies may initiate a misconduct action (putting the employee on notice that an action will ensue) but may immediately suspend the investigation, pending the outcome of criminal proceedings.

The Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines make it clear that agencies must refer all allegations of serious or complex fraud involving Commonwealth interests to the Australian Federal Police.


26 The FMA Act (s60) prescribes a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment for misuse of a Commonwealth credit card

27 The Fraud Control Guidelines also apply to the Parliamentary Service