Go to top of page

Sect 4.16 Working overseas

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 elements of the Code of Conduct

APS Code of Conduct

  • An APS employee, when acting in the course of APS employment, must treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment.
  • 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.
  • An APS employee on duty overseas must at all times behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia.

This advice is relevant to APS employees on long-term overseas postings and those overseas on short-term missions and visits. This includes APS employees who are temporarily attached to non-APS organisations such as foreign government agencies, non-government organisations, private-sector corporations
and employees travelling to attend meetings and conferences.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has published a Code of Conduct for Overseas Service. It covers in more detail issues raised in this section. The DFAT Code applies to all DFAT employees on long-term postings, including heads of mission, those overseas on short-term missions and visits,
and those on leave without pay. It also applies to DFAT employees who are temporarily attached to non-APS bodies such as international organisations, foreign government agencies, non-government organisations and private-sector corporations. DFAT employees travelling overseas should read and understand
the Code. The information provided in the Code would benefit other employees required to visit or work overseas on behalf of the APS.

Other agencies including Austrade and AusAID have developed codes that guide employees' conduct while working and visiting overseas.

APS employees who are overseas because of work have a responsibility to act at all times in a manner which upholds the good reputation of Australia and contributes to the good reputation of any Australian mission or government agency with which they may be associated.

Australian officials overseas are seen at all times as representing Australia both in the performance of their official duties and in the manner in which they conduct themselves as private individuals. Regardless of their formal roles or responsibilities, their visibility and status as foreign officials
means that their actions will be subject to greater scrutiny and public interest than they would be at home. Australian officials abroad may also face dilemmas in the area of personal conduct which do not arise in Australia—whether in social, cultural, financial or personal settings.

If there is a difference between a head of mission and an employee of another agency about the effect an employee's conduct may have on bilateral relations, the management of the mission or reputation of Australia, either the employee or head of mission may refer the matter to their agency in Canberra.
Until the matter has been resolved, the employee should comply with directions from the head of mission.

Respect for the law of other countries

In accordance with the principles set out in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and on Consular Relations, while overseas APS employees must respect the law of the country they are in. They should take into account any guidance provided by their agency head or the head of the responsible
Australian diplomatic mission concerning local laws and regulations. This guidance will be particularly relevant where there is a major difference between the local and Australian law.

APS employees should pay particular attention to laws and directions governing bank accounts, currency dealings, purchase and disposal of motor vehicles and traffic infringements. They must also make arrangements to clear all outstanding locally incurred financial debts prior to completing their posting
or attachment.

Cultural sensitivity

It is necessary for APS employees overseas to be culturally sensitive to the people of the host country and understand local customs, including personal behaviour. Many countries restrict the acquisition and export of cultural property and APS employees should exercise care to observe local requirements.
(The term 'cultural property' may include any antiquity, artefact, document, work of art or other object that is of national, historical, scientific, literary or artistic importance.)

As in Australia, APS employees overseas have a duty to contribute to the effective functioning of the workplace by treating their colleagues and the public with respect. Even more than in Australia, this will require particular attention to the different cultural backgrounds, beliefs and opinions of
people in and out of the workplace. It is most important that people representing Australia overseas are sensitive to local culture and beliefs when undertaking their official duties and in their private lives.

Accepting gifts

APS employees overseas must not improperly use their duties, status, power or authority to obtain or seek to gain a benefit or advantage for themselves, or another person. If not accepting a gift is likely to cause offence to the extent that it could adversely affect Australia's interests, the employees
should accept the gift, then report it according to agency policy and inform the head of mission (see Chapter 12 for more information about gifts and benefits, including bribery and related offences).

Use of diplomatic and consular status

The host government, based on the function that the employee performs in the mission, confers diplomatic or consular status and privileges. These privileges are intended to facilitate the operation of the diplomatic or consular mission with which they are associated, and are not for the personal benefit
of the employee or members of the employee's household. An APS employee assigned to service overseas, or travelling on official duties, must act with integrity in relation to any privilege they may have (such as exemption under international law from the payment of taxes or duties) as a diplomatic or
consular representative. APS employees who are not accorded diplomatic or consular privileges by the host government, such as non-attached employees and visitors, are not entitled to such privileges and receive different rates of overseas allowances as compensation.

Personal behaviour

Personal behaviour that is likely to adversely affect the APS employee's ability to perform their duties, or the ability of their mission to achieve its objectives, or which is likely to bring the mission or Australia into disrepute is a legitimate concern of the agency head and head of mission and
must be avoided.

Styles of interpersonal behaviour and conduct that are acceptable in Australia may be illegal, inappropriate or misinterpreted in other countries. Sexual activity and the use of alcohol or drugs are areas of sensitivity where conduct may more easily be seen as offensive or misinterpreted, and where
particular attention to appropriate personal behaviour in the local context is therefore required.

An employee must comply with the age of consent requirements specified for sexual activity in the law of the host country or the age of consent under the law of the Australian Capital Territory (16 years), whichever sets the greater age.

Reporting inappropriate behaviour

Where an employee observes what they suspect may be a breach of the Code of Conduct on the part of another employee, consistent with their obligations under the APS Values and Code of Conduct to behave ethically, honestly and with integrity in the course of their employment, they should report it in
accordance with relevant agency instructions on reporting breaches of the Code of Conduct.

Where an employee becomes aware of information which they suspect relates to serious criminal misconduct, e.g. bribery of a foreign public official, by another Australian who is not an APS employee, the employee should report the matter to the head of mission or an appropriate senior person in the
employee's home agency, who should in turn consider the most appropriate course of action, including reporting the matter to local law enforcement authorities or the Australian Federal Police.

Behaviour of household members

Formal obligations in relation to conduct do not extend to family or household members. Actions of family or household members can, however, impact on the reputation of Australia or of an Australian mission, and on the ability of APS employees to perform their duties. Persistent or serious misbehaviour
or breach of local laws by a household member may result in the termination of the employee's posting. In such an event, no blame shall attach to the employee by reason only of the behaviour of the member of his or her household.