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Section 8: Working overseas

8.1 Summary

8.1.1 Section 13(12) of the Public Service Act 1999 (PS Act) provides that an Australian Public Service (APS) employee on duty overseas must at all times behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia. This element of the APS Code of Conduct (the Code) applies to APS employees working overseas in addition to other elements of the Code.

8.1.2 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 official roles or responsibilities, their status as foreign officials means 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.

8.1.3 APS employees should ensure that they understand their obligations before travelling overseas on official business. If an employee's agency does not have a policy on conduct overseas, it may be useful to refer to the Code of Conduct for Overseas Service published by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

8.1.4 A breach of the behavioural standards set out in agency policy on conduct overseas may be a breach of the Code. Where no agency-specific policy applies, the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service provides guidance on the types of behaviour overseas that would be likely to result in misconduct action.

8.2 Authority of the Head of Mission

8.2.1 Heads of Mission are responsible for all aspects of Australia's relationship with their countries or organisations of accreditation, and for leading and managing the whole-of-government policies at posts.

8.2.2 An employee who is not employed by DFAT is subject to the overall management and control of their agency head while overseas. However, they may be subject to the direction of the Head of Mission on any matters within that employee's area of responsibility that could affect:

  1. Australia's bilateral relations with the host government
  2. the administration of the mission, or
  3. the good reputation of the mission or Australia in the host country.

8.2.3 APS employees should discuss their responsibilities to the Head of Mission with their managers.

8.2.4 In the event of any difference between a Head of Mission and an APS employee not employed by DFAT concerning the extent of the Head of Mission's authority, either the Head of Mission or the employee may request their agency to take up the matter with the other agency. Pending the resolution of any such differences by those agencies, the employee is expected to comply with the written directions of the Head of Mission.

8.3 Conflicts of interest

8.3.1 Gift giving is a social custom in many countries, but acceptance may create a perception that the employee's integrity has been compromised. Section 5: Conflict of interest sets out the requirement for APS employees to take reasonable steps to avoid any real or apparent conflict of interest in connection with their employment. If a material conflict of interest cannot be avoided, it must be declared.

8.3.2 Agencies may have specific policies on when gifts or benefits may be accepted when working overseas and how such gifts or benefits should be declared. For example, the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service sets out the circumstances in which a gift may be accepted by DFAT employees working overseas.

8.4 Improper use of position

8.4.1 Australians expect the highest levels of ethical behaviour by their representatives overseas, even when these representatives are off duty. The Code may govern the private behaviour of APS employees overseas insofar as that behaviour is in some way connected to the employee's duties. Inappropriate conduct in the private life of an APS employee who is working overseas is likely to reflect poorly on the good reputation of Australia, as well as the employee's agency and the APS.

8.4.2 An APS employee working overseas must take care not to participate in any activity designed to circumvent local rules. Examples of this type of activity may include purchase of duty free goods on behalf of locally engaged employees, and exchange of funds at unofficial or 'black market' rates. If an employee is uncertain about whether an activity falls in this category they should consult the Head of Mission.

8.4.3 Bribing or attempting to bribe a foreign public official is a serious crime. Australian companies or individuals that bribe, or attempt to bribe, an official in a foreign country can be prosecuted under Australian law and the laws of foreign countries. Engaging in such conduct may also affect an employee's suitability to work for the Australian Government and/or to hold a security clearance. Section 5: Conflict of interest provides further information about employee obligations in this regard.

Household members

8.4.4 Unless they are APS employees themselves, household members of APS employees serving overseas are not subject to any obligations under the PS Act or agency directions in relation to conduct. However, the high visibility of household members as part of an Australian official community means that any inappropriate behaviour or violation of the host country's laws by a household member can damage the reputation of the agency, the post and Australia. Consequently, incidents of inappropriate behaviour by household members may result in an APS employee's posting being terminated.

8.4.5 The DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service provides further information about the responsibilities of DFAT employees in this regard.

8.5 Reporting inappropriate behaviour

8.5.1 How an employee reports behaviour they suspect may be a breach of the Code on the part of another employee will depend on the circumstances. More serious misconduct should normally be reported and dealt with in a more serious and more formal way. In some cases, especially those involving relatively minor matters, it may be most appropriate to raise the matter directly with the employee concerned in the first instance. This will be a matter of judgement. If in doubt employees should discuss the matter with their manager or someone in authority in their agency. See Section 9: Reporting suspected misconduct for further information.

8.5.2 Where an employee becomes aware of serious criminal misconduct by another Australian who is not an APS employee, the employee should report the matter to the Head of Mission who will, in turn, consider the most appropriate course of action. This may include reporting the matter to local law enforcement authorities or the Australian Federal Police.

8.5.3 Suspicions of foreign bribery should be reported to the Head of Mission and the Australian Federal Police in all cases. Further information about foreign bribery is available from the Attorney-General's Department website.

Agency policies and procedures

Agencies may wish to require employees travelling overseas on official business, including those on long-term postings, to provide an undertaking that they will comply with certain behavioural standards, such as those set out in the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service.

Last reviewed: 
29 May 2018