Chapter 3: A values-driven culture
To build a trusted and effective public service, a foundational set of values and behaviours must underpin APS culture. Trust is imperative in building effective engagement with stakeholders and the community, especially in an environment where public policy challenges are increasingly complex and interconnected. Recent trends worldwide have shown declining trust in public institutions and government, and Australia is not immune to this. In this context, nurturing a values-driven culture is increasingly important.
Steps are being taken to ensure that the Australian Government is conducting its activities in an open and transparent way. There is a renewed focus on the APS working more collaboratively with partner agencies, other governments, industry and the community, to achieve the best results for the Australian people and the Government.
APS employees at all levels need to live the APS Values: impartial, committed to service, accountable, respectful and ethical. It is likely that the APS workforce will become more mobile, moving within, as well as in and out of the public sector, and from organisations with different values and systems. As such, the APS needs to ensure that the focus on promoting and embedding these values remains strong. The APS Values are cornerstones of a pro-integrity system and leaders have an important role to play in modelling these behaviours and setting the standard from the top.
The APS employee census asks APS employees if their colleagues, supervisor and senior leaders act in accordance with the APS Values. Most APS employees have responded positively to these questions and the results have been relatively stable over the past five years. Nevertheless, an ongoing focus on a values-driven culture remains important.
The APS, like many institutions in Western democracies, is under challenge. Never before have public expectations been higher and trust in shorter supply.
The Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures changes in the levels of trust around the world, recorded an average trust level of 48 per cent for Australia in 2019. This ranked Australia 13 out of the 26 countries assessed. While this assessment remains disappointing, it is an improvement from Australia’s trust level score of 40 per cent in 2018.
Australia also achieved a result of 42 per cent specifically related to trust in government; this is similarly an improvement on 2018. While these results are mildly encouraging, Australia still sits just below the global average of 47 per cent for trust across all three tiers of government. As outlined in an ANZSOG research paper for the Independent Review of the APS, institutional integrity is a key driver of trust and is one factor the APS can control as a united service.44
Trust in institutions underpins a successful society. Higher levels of trust are likely to result in increased levels of civic participation, institutional and social cohesion, a respected and valued public service, and lower transaction costs in policy development as well as compliance.45 To ensure success, public institutions are required to be competent and effective in delivering on their goals but also in operating consistently with a set of values that reflect citizens’ expectations of integrity and fairness.46 It is when standards of integrity fall down that public trust declines, making it even harder to earn trust back.
The OECD suggests there are six key areas of focus for governments to increase trust: reliability, responsiveness, openness, better regulation, integrity and fairness, and inclusive policy making.47 Much of this involves the crucial importance of effective delivery of policies and programs to the public. This also requires the APS to adopt a strong stewardship role to uphold integrity and encourage transparency and accountability in the actions it takes and outcomes it delivers, to ensure public institutions are trusted by those they serve.
Digital technology is having a transformational effect on the way government and the public sector interacts and transacts with the community. Citizens increasingly expect that governments will provide personalised and responsive services, and social media and mobile platforms are replacing traditional means of interaction with government.
Digital platforms also have the ability to improve service quality, promote transparent and efficient interaction with public agencies, enhance the level of public trust in government and drive better citizen outcomes.
The benefits and challenges associated with this digital transformation are interlinked and the APS needs to deal with emerging issues, while keeping a clear line of sight back to the requirements and needs of the Australian public. For example, using big data to streamline and target government services has raised concerns relating to individual privacy. Similarly, an increase in digital applications may unintentionally exclude segments of the community that have lower levels of digital literacy or who experience accessibility issues.
Digital Transformation Strategy—Digital Transformation Agency
The Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Strategy, facilitated by the Digital Transformation Agency and released in November 2018, sets out a clear direction to make all government services available digitally by 2025. It aims to make them simpler and easier to use and, most importantly, informed by the Australians who use them.
The accompanying roadmap shows more than 100 projects across government that will deliver on the strategy. In less than one year, 73 of these initiatives have already been delivered and are providing better outcomes for Australians. The Digital Transformation Agency will continue to add projects to the roadmap so it remains current and achieves the strategy’s goals.
For instance, in August 2019, the Government released its digital identity solution, myGovID into the Apple iOS App Store, delivering the digital equivalent of the 100-point ID check. Since its release, more than 30,000 identities have been created. The app can be used to access the Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) Business Portal. More services will be added in the future.
The Child Care Finder is making it easier for hundreds of thousands of parents to connect with child-care service providers through a new, easy-to-use and expandable directory.
The online Business Registration Service provides a simpler and faster way to register a business. Since its launch in June 2018, it has supported 365,267 business registrations. This is an increase of 136 per cent on the previous year. The service reduces the average time to complete an application from 65 minutes to 16 minutes.
In addition to engaging with the public through digital platforms, the APS is increasingly looking to involve the public in various policy making, service design and delivery issues. These approaches need to become engrained patterns of working throughout the APS. In particular, it is largely in service delivery contexts that Australians interact with the public sector, and inclusive approaches in these environments will be a key driver of public trust.
Human-centred design, deliberative engagement and co-design practices have also emerged as mechanisms to strengthen collaboration between government agencies, non-government organisations, communities and individuals.
Human-centred design views problems from the perspective of the user and solutions are developed to account for user needs. The benefits of human-centred design can include improved citizen experience, increased program buy-in, lower errors and lower costs in government programs alongside better design and enhanced citizen satisfaction.
While capability is being developed across the APS to change the way it engages with the community, continuing investment and support is required to sustain and build upon collaborative approaches. Failure to keep up with rising citizen expectations, inadequate funding for information technology modernisation, protracted and repeated testing, and ineffective coordination across silos and different agencies, can all reduce the benefits, and ultimately negatively impact citizens’ experience, of engaging with the public sector.48
Some case studies are emerging across the APS outlining successful programs of work that have embraced citizen engagement.
Measuring client and community confidence—Australian Taxation Office
One of the ATO’s aspirations for 2024, articulated in its Corporate Plan, is ‘building trust and confidence’ in clients and the community. This aspiration sits at the heart of the ATO’s Client and Community Confidence measurement suite.
To measure trust and confidence, the ATO surveys on a monthly basis recent clients (who have had an interaction in the previous month) and the general community (who have not had a recent interaction). The results provide metrics for the ATO to benchmark its performance in building trust and confidence in its services. Overall, survey outcomes have indicated a positive correlation between a taxpayer’s confidence in the ATO and their willingness to voluntarily participate in the tax and superannuation system.
The suite involves measuring 15 factors that contribute to an individual’s confidence in the ATO, including perceptions of fairness, conscientiousness and timeliness. The factors are all equally weighted to provide an index score the ATO uses as its Confidence Key Performance Indicator.
Beyond the benefit of measuring concepts like community confidence, the ongoing program has allowed the ATO to understand the benefits and challenges of its community engagement programs. By comparing confidence scores between clients who engaged online or offline, through myGov, by the phone or by the app, the ATO is gaining valuable insight into community engagement preferences. Measuring and comparing has also allowed the ATO to recognise changing expectations of government service from younger demographics, and to better understand how services should be evolving to capture the trust of digital-savvy citizens. This insight will guide many of the ATO’s approaches to community engagement moving forward.
As the Client and Community Confidence approach develops further, the ATO intends to use outcomes to inform a range of client-facing products, processes and services.
While making tax an exceptional experience will always be challenging, the ATO is proud to be measuring, monitoring and improving the client experience. Investing in a confidence measurement program demonstrates the ATO’s commitment to ensuring this experience is front of mind in administration decisions.
Digital transformation—Services Australia
Services Australia (formerly the Department of Human Services) is on the path of digital transformation.
The Australian community is seeking the same things from the public service that they want from other businesses: online services that are easy, quick and convenient; the ability to deal with government using the channel of their choice; comprehensive support, instead of multiple transactions; and assurance that their data is safe. Digital services have a profound positive impact on people’s lives, making life events easier to handle.
Services Australia continues to respond to this expectation. For example, Australians can submit an increasing number of claims through myGov, update their details and report their income online. More than 98 per cent of Medicare services and more than 80 per cent of family, student, carer and jobseeker payment claims are submitted online. Customers can get instant answers from digital assistants, similar to the online experience they might get from their insurer or bank.
When parents have a child, for instance, they can now enrol their newborns in Medicare through myGov, and it takes only 3 minutes.
This work, and much more like it, has proven that digital transformation is a human process, not a technology fix. And while technology is obviously critical to better customer service, often a better service for customers is also a better process for business.
Services Australia continues to transform the way business is delivered digitally and face-to-face as they ensure that services to the Australian community are, as the Prime Minister has said, ‘delivered seamlessly and efficiently, when and where they are needed’
Openness and transparency
The OECD defines open government as a ‘culture of governance based on innovative and sustainable public policies and practices inspired by the principles of transparency, accountability and participation that fosters democracy and inclusive growth’.49 The World Justice Project Open Government Index takes into account four dimensions of government openness:
- publicised laws and government data
- right to information
- civic participation
- complaint mechanisms.50
Australia ranked ninth out of 102 countries in the World Justice Project Open Government Index 2015.
Easy access to government information and data is essential to promote public sector transparency and openness. The Transparency Portal—www.transparency.gov.au—is a new central repository of publicly available corporate information for all Commonwealth bodies. Throughout 2018, the Department of Finance led a digital annual report pilot project where participating agencies produced and digitised their 2017–18 annual reports. Following this pilot, the 2018–19 reporting cycle saw all Commonwealth entities and companies produce digital annual reports. These can be located on the Transparency Portal. Over time, the Transparency Portal will be expanded to incorporate additional information, with a view to establishing a single authoritative source of reporting requirements under the PGPA Act.
Australia has also been a member of the Open Government Partnership since 2015 and released its first Open Government National Action Plan in 2016. The partnership’s vision is that more governments ‘become sustainably more transparent, more accountable and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive’.51
It is important to ensure the APS proactively drives a culture of openness to be accountable to the Australian public and continue efforts to build trust in the APS as an enduring institution. At the same time, there is a need to safeguard the ability of the APS to provide frank and fearless deliberative advice to the government of the day. The Commonwealth Freedom of Information regime seeks to strike a balance between these two priorities.
Australia’s second Open Government National Action Plan 2018–20, launched in September 2018, comprises eight commitments to improve transparency, accountability and public engagement across all facets of government in collaboration with civil society.
This national action plan seeks to:
- strengthen the national anti-corruption framework
- enhance the transparency of political donations and funding
- improve the sharing, use and reuse of public sector data
- improve public service practices using place-based approaches
- enhance state and territory participation in the Open Government Partnership
- enhance public engagement skills in the public service
- engage Australians in the Independent Review of the APS
- expand open contracting and due diligence in procurement.52
Work started on the third Open Government National Action Plan in September 2019.
Data sharing frameworks
Australian Government data holdings contain crucially important opportunities to inform policy development, evaluate programs, contribute to economic growth, and support innovation, for the benefit of all Australians.
In July 2018, the Australian Government established the Office of the National Data Commissioner with responsibility for implementing a data sharing framework that improves access to, and re-use of, public sector data, while maintaining data privacy and security. The Government is working to treat its public data as fuel for the digital economy and a resource for the information society, including a focus on whether policies are working or not. However, this comes with an obligation for public scrutiny and a right to privacy for every citizen.
In September 2019, the Australian Government also released for consultation a discussion paper on data sharing and release legislative reform to enshrine data protection, together with a clear, consistent and transparent approach to sharing public sector data. As outlined in the paper, maintaining trust with the Australian community is fundamental to realising the full potential of data as a national asset. This will require the continuing enhancement of a values-based culture, driven by system-wide transparency and accountability, to ensure data is used in a manner that instils trust.
Strong governance frameworks are needed. Reforms under the Open Government Partnership aim to promote better sharing of public sector data while building the public’s trust in use of public data through appropriate safeguards and integrity in the data system. To this end, the main aim of the Office of the National Data Commissioner is to build trust in how the Government manages its data.
A Best Practice Guide to Applying Data Sharing Principles was released in March 2019 to assist agencies holding Australian Government data to safely and effectively share the data for which they are responsible. This guide complements existing legislative data protections.
Collaboration and partnerships
The APS needs to be world-class at collaborating with external partners on all the challenges we face as a country—everything from grasping the productivity opportunity of the digital economy, to ending the export of waste, to using big data to dramatically improve service delivery.
The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia53
Individually, APS agencies have control of some mechanisms to address policy issues. However, it is only through collaboration and partnerships that the APS will be able to achieve the best possible outcomes when dealing with complex challenges. To facilitate this, the APS needs to drive a culture of collaboration, productive relationships and enhanced levels of trust, both within the APS and with external stakeholders.
The APS is already changing the way it works, moving from traditional bureaucratic methods towards an inclusive, agile and connected approach with key partners and the community. While there are strong examples of the APS collaborating effectively in a crisis, this needs to be extended to more aspects of policy design, regulatory activities and service delivery. Collaboration needs to become the norm, not the exception.
For the first time, the 2019 APS employee census included questions assessing employees’ experience of collaboration within and between agencies and external stakeholders. These questions were only asked of EL and SES employees. Collaboration was defined as ‘the process of two or more people or organisations working closely together to complete a task or project, or to achieve a goal’. Figure 3.1 outlines the results.
Figure 3.1: Proportion of EL and SES employees engaging in collaboration
Source: 2019 APS employee census
The 2019 APS employee census also included questions about the types of collaboration that EL and SES employees had engaged in. The most common form of collaboration reported within and across agencies, and with other government or external stakeholders, was informal discussions and activities, followed by formal project and working groups.
In addition, analysis of APS employee census data indicates that collaboration with other levels of government or external stakeholders varied across agency size and functional cluster.54 For example, a greater proportion of respondents from policy agencies reported collaboration than respondents from larger operational agencies.
The PS Act requires SES employees to promote cooperation within and between agencies, including to deliver outcomes across agency and portfolio boundaries. In line with this requirement, a larger proportion of SES respondents than EL respondents indicated they had collaborated with people from other APS or Commonwealth government agencies over the previous 12 months. More than half of all SES respondents (58 per cent) had been involved in an interdepartmental committee, compared to just over a quarter (26 per cent) of EL respondents.
The 2019 APS employee census also asked SES and EL employees about perceived barriers to collaboration. Common responses included lack of time and resources, competing priorities, organisational and budgetary silos, and a culture of competition rather than collaboration.
In the 2019 APS agency survey, the most commonly reported barriers to collaboration within agencies included geographical dispersion, workload and staffing levels, time pressures, and siloed approaches to working. Challenges to external collaboration reported by agencies included workload and staffing levels, information sharing (including security and approval concerns) and competing priorities.
As outlined in Priorities for Change, it is crucial to adopt new approaches, reconfigure teams and deploy skills where and when most needed to support a culture of collaboration. Leaders modelling this collaboration and partnership culture gives everyone across the APS licence to conduct themselves in this way.
To ensure true collaboration can take place across the public sector and with external partners, APS leaders must actively remove barriers to collaboration. It will be important to have rules, systems, structures and ways of working that empower, not encumber, the flexibility and collaboration essential to advancing Australia’s long-term interests.55 Effective collaboration also relies on a strong, pro-integrity culture, earning stakeholder trust by acting in accordance with the APS Values and delivering on commitments.
UNESCO World Heritage Listing for Budj Bim Cultural Landscape—Department of the Environment and Energy
The inscription of Australia’s first Indigenous Australian landscape on the UNESCO World Heritage List followed years of sustained collaboration between the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners, government and academia. Over the last two years the Department of the Environment and Energy has been working with Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victoria to prepare the nomination for the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, which led to the successful inscription on the World Heritage List on 6 July 2019.
Located within the traditional country of the Gunditjmara peoples in southwest Victoria, the listing includes the Budj Bim National Park and Tae Rak (Lake Condah), as well as the Kurtonitj area, characterised by traditionally engineered wetlands, and Tyrendarra in the south, an area of rocky ridges and large marshes. The Budj Bim lava flows, which connect these three components, have enabled the Gunditjmara to develop one of the largest and oldest aquaculture networks in the world. Composed of channels, dams and weirs, they are used to manage floodwaters and create basins to trap, store and harvest the kooyang eel (Anguilla australis), which has provided the population with an economic and social base for six millennia.
The department continues to partner with the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners to support the ongoing protection and management of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape World Heritage property. It is also collaborating with other Traditional Owners across Australia to recognise and protect places of Indigenous cultural importance.
Barkly Regional Deal—Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development
The $78.4 million Barkly Regional Deal—Australia’s first Regional Deal pilot—was signed on 13 April 2019 following a six-month community engagement process. The Barkly region is centred around the town of Tennant Creek, Northern Territory, and is Australia’s second largest local government area. Local leadership, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, were at the heart of the deal’s development, in recognition of their ongoing connection to country as the Traditional Owners and custodians of the land.
Following an initial visit by the then Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, to discuss the suitability of a Regional Deal in July 2018, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Michael McCormack MP, and the then Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, commenced community engagement to determine local priorities for inclusion in the deal.
A taskforce comprising representatives from the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory Government and the Barkly Regional Council was established for a joined-up approach to community engagement. Taskforce members consulted collaboratively with Traditional Owners and representatives of the 16 Indigenous language groups across the region, local business leaders, young people and non-government organisations in Tennant Creek, and outlying remote communities. Community members shared, with unflinching honesty, their stories, struggles and ideas about how to address the region’s challenges and build the region’s resilience.
The chairperson of Barkly Regional Arts, a local service provider and resident of the region, described the deal as having ‘an empowering and unifying impact across many sectors’. He believes ‘the level of involvement demonstrates just how passionate the Barkly community is in participating in the regions positive development’ and is ‘confident the leadership, partnerships and collaborations that we are currently seeing will help strengthen and develop the region for future generations’.
The deal is a practical and innovative example of how collaboration and partnerships between the three levels of government and local community can drive positive change to support a community’s needs, aspirations and vision for its future.
GovTEAMS: A digital collaboration service for government—Department of Finance
GovTEAMS was launched by the Department of Finance on 1 January 2019, focusing on delivering collaboration capability for the APS.
GovTEAMS allows APS employees to collaborate in real time, co-author information and share files in a single online workspace. It now counts 27,000 users and 3,900 communities from 168 organisations, with members in 33 countries. In addition to APS employees, more than 6,000 invited external partners, such as academics and industry partners, are collaborating with public servants by video, audio and instant messaging from around the world. Users have shared more than one million files and have exchanged more than 253,000 real-time messages across GovTEAMS since its launch.
GovTEAMS also provides greater opportunities for individuals with a disability to collaborate with colleagues and stakeholders.
‘GovTEAMS allowed collaboration with colleagues and external third parties using a screen reader from both desktop and mobile platforms. As a blind user I was able to fully utilise the collaboration and content creation functions of GovTEAMS without training or assistance enabling me to contribute to projects from multiple client devices.’
GovTEAMS user feedback
As a next step, PROTECTED GovTEAMS will start as a trial from December 2019. Based on GovTEAMS, with enhanced security features, up to 2,000 participants from across government and industry will have the power to communicate and collaborate with protected information in a secure mobile environment.
APS Values and integrity
APS employees occupy a position of trust. This brings a level of responsibility that must be matched by the highest standards of ethical behaviour from every APS employee. Institutional integrity in the APS is about changing the mindset from a compliance-based approach as the default setting to a pro-integrity culture by promoting shared values and consistent practices.
Together, the APS Values (Figure 3.2), the APS Employment Principles and the APS Code of Conduct set out the standard of behaviour expected of agency heads and APS employees.
In the 2019 APS employee census, the majority of employees perceived that their colleagues (92 per cent) and supervisors (92 per cent) ‘always’ or ‘often’ acted in accordance with the APS Values (Figure 3.3). These perceptions have remained relatively stable since questions about this were included in 2014. Perceptions of SES have steadily increased since a low point of 80 per cent positive responses in 2016.
Figure 3.3: Proportion of APS employees perceiving their colleagues, supervisor and SES always or often act in accordance with APS Values, 2014 to 2019
SES employees are also responsible under the PS Act to promote the APS Values, the APS Employment Principles and compliance with the Code of Conduct. In the 2019 APS employee census, 80 per cent of APS employees perceived SES in their agency to ‘always’ or ‘often’ promote the APS Values. Employees who reported that their SES manager was sufficiently visible were more likely to indicate that senior leaders in their agency promoted the APS Values.
Ethics Advisory Service—Australian Public Service Commission
The year 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the Ethics Advisory Service (EAS) within the APSC. Since its establishment the EAS has responded to more than 7,000 requests for advice on applying the APS Values and Code of Conduct as well as making ethical decisions in the APS. Topics addressed included managing conflicts of interest, misconduct enquiries and, increasingly, the ever-evolving issue of employee participation on social media.
APS Code of Conduct
The principles of good public administration, embodied in the APS Values and APS Employment Principles, lie at the heart of the democratic process and the confidence the public has in the way public servants exercise authority in delivering the agenda of the government of the day. Good public administration is a protection against inefficiency and poor performance, as well as against fraud, corruption, inequity, inability to conduct business confidently and infringement of human rights.
All APS employees must comply with the APS Code of Conduct, as set out in Section 13 of the PS Act. This includes the requirement to behave in a way that upholds the APS Values as well as the integrity and good reputation of their agency and the APS. A breach of the Code may result in sanctions, ranging from a reprimand to termination of employment.
In the 2019 APS agency survey, responding agencies reported that 535 employees had been subject to an investigation into a suspected breach of the Code.56 This is equivalent to less than 0.4 per cent of the APS workforce, and continues the decrease in such investigations since 2016 (Figure 3.4). The most common breaches related to:
- ‘an APS employee must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and APS Employment Principles and the integrity and good reputation of the employee’s agency and the APS’ (Section 13(11) of the PS Act)
- ‘an APS employee must behave honestly and with integrity in connection with APS employment’ (Section 13(1) of the PS Act)
- ‘an APS employee must act with care and diligence in connection with APS employment’ (Section 13(2) of the PS Act).
Figure 3.4: Number of APS employees investigated for a suspected breach of the APS Code of Conduct, 2014 to 2019
Source: APS agency survey
The outcomes of these investigations showed:
- 315 employees were found in breach of the Code and a sanction applied
- 152 employees were found in breach of the Code, however no sanction was applied (with 82 employees resigning prior to a sanction decision)
- 38 employees investigated were found to have not breached the Code
- 30 employees investigated had their investigation discontinued.
Where a breach of the Code was established and a sanction applied, the most common sanction was reprimand (40 per cent of cases), followed by a reduction in salary (20 per cent of cases) and deductions from salary by way of a fine (18 per cent of cases).
Bullying, harassment and discrimination
A positive workplace is characterised by mutual respect that supports employee engagement. It also creates a high-performance culture that encourages innovation and creativity.
The APS Code of Conduct requires APS employees to treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment when acting in connection with APS employment.
In the 2019 APS employee census, 13 per cent of APS employees (n = 12,583) perceived bullying or harassment in the workplace in the previous 12 months. This perception has been decreasing steadily since 2015 (Figure 3.5). In 2019, the most common types of perceived bullying or harassment were verbal abuse, interference with work tasks and inappropriate and unfair application of work policies or rules.
Figure 3.5: Reported perceived rates of bullying or harassment, 2012 to 2019
Source: APS employee census
In the 2019 APS agency survey, agencies reported 422 complaints of bullying or harassment. A single complaint can cover more than one type of bullying or harassment; the most common complaints related to verbal abuse, inappropriate and unfair application of work policies or rules and interference with work tasks.
In the 2019 APS employee census, 12.2 per cent of APS employees (n = 11,779) perceived discrimination at work in the past year. This compares to 12.3 per cent in the 2018 APS employee census. According to the 2019 APS agency survey, 28 complaints were recorded from employees about discrimination in 2018–19. The most common complaints related to gender, race, cultural background or religious beliefs, and disability.
Further analysis of the census data reveals that respondents who reported belonging to diversity groups reported higher rates of perceived bullying or harassment (Figure 3.6). This trend was also reflected in results from the 2018 APS employee census.
Figure 3.6: Rates of APS employee perceptions of harassment or bullying by diversity group
Source: 2019 APS employee census
Similarly, there were higher rates of perceived discrimination by employees who identified as part of a diversity group (Figure 3.7).
Figure 3.7: Rates of APS employee perceptions of discrimination by diversity group
Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.
Patricia Moreira, Managing Director, Transparency International57
Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index ranked Australia as having the 13th least corrupt public sector out of 180 countries considered.58 Although the Index consistently ranks Australia as one of the least corrupt nations in the world, Australia’s ranking has continued to decline since 2012. Perceived levels of public sector corruption have seen Australia slip from an initial ranking of seventh on the Index, even though Australia has a strong record of global, regional and domestic action to prevent and expose corrupt activity.
Through the 2019 APS agency survey, agencies reported on the number of employees investigated under the Code of Conduct for potential corrupt behaviour. The agency survey defined corruption as ‘the dishonest or biased exercise of a Commonwealth public official’s functions’. A distinguishing characteristic of corrupt behaviour is that it involves conduct that would usually justify serious penalties, such as termination of employment or criminal prosecution. Types of behaviour that, if serious enough, may be considered corrupt include:
- bribery—domestic and foreign—obtaining, offering or soliciting secret commissions, kickbacks or gratuities
- fraud, forgery or embezzlement
- theft or misappropriation of official assets
- nepotism—preferential treatment of family members
- cronyism—preferential treatment of friends
- acting (or failing to act) in the presence of a conflict of interest
- unlawful disclosure of government information
- perverting the course of justice
- colluding, conspiring with, or harbouring criminals
- insider trading—misusing official information to gain an unfair private, commercial or market advantage for self or others
- green-lighting—making official decisions that improperly favour a person or company, or disadvantage another.
Of the 535 employees who had investigations for a suspected breach of the APS Code of Conduct finalised in 2018–19, 176 investigations related to behaviour that could be categorised as corrupt (Figure 3.8). The main type of corrupt behaviour investigated was fraud, forgery or embezzlement (n = 107). Almost all employees (n = 173) investigated for corrupt behaviour were found to have breached the Code of Conduct. The number of employees investigated for behaviour that could be categorised as corrupt is the highest since 2014; however, most instances can be attributed to a single agency having an increase in corruption investigations in 2018–19.
Figure 3.8: Number of APS employees investigated for corrupt behaviour, 2014 to 2019
Source: APS agency survey
In the 2019 APS employee census, 4.4 per cent of respondents (n = 4,299) indicated they had witnessed another APS employee engaging in behaviour that may be serious enough to be viewed as corrupt. This proportion remained stable compared to data from 2018 (4.6 per cent). The most commonly witnessed forms of perceived corruption were:
- cronyism (69 per cent)
- nepotism (25 per cent)
- acting (or failing to act) in the presence of an undisclosed conflict of interest (23 per cent)
- fraud, forgery or embezzlement (15 per cent).
Cronyism was most commonly perceived in recruitment and/or promotion decisions (73 per cent) and in opportunities for acting, higher duties or other advancements (72 per cent). Similarly, the majority of respondents perceived nepotism through recruitment and/or promotion decisions (80 per cent) and through acting, higher duties and other advancement opportunities (74 per cent).
Of the respondents who had witnessed behaviours that may be serious enough to be viewed as corruption, 64 per cent said they did not report the behaviour. Nineteen per cent of respondents reported the behaviour in accordance with their agency’s policies and procedures and 17 per cent indicated that the behaviour was reported by someone else. Employees were also asked why they chose not to report the behaviour. More than one response could be selected; the most common were:
- believing no action would be taken (66 per cent)
- managers accepting the behaviour (61 per cent)
- reporting the behaviour could affect their career (54 per cent)
- concern about adverse consequence beyond the effect on their career (42 per cent). Twelve per cent indicated they did not know how to report the behaviour.
The APS employee census details employee perceptions of corruption rather than evidence of actual corruption. Care must therefore be taken when interpreting this data. The percentage of employees responding they feel confident in knowing what to do if they identified corruption in their workplace continues to improve (83 per cent in 2019), as illustrated in Figure 3.9.
While levels of corruption are very low in the APS, it is important that leaders continue to ensure that employees feel supported in reporting suspected corruption and that confidence in the reporting system is maintained.
Figure 3.9: Proportion of APS employees who felt confident they knew what to do if they identified corruption in their workplace, 2015 to 2019
Source: APS employee census