Promote a high standard of integrity across the APS
The Commissioner chaired meetings of the Integrity Agencies Group (IAG) on 8 November 2018 and 12 April 2019. The IAG discussed a range of contemporary
integrity issues including policy, legislation and best practice. Specific topics considered included the:
- Protective Security Policy Framework
- Foreign Interest Transparency Scheme, and
- Interim findings of the Independent Review of the APS.
The Commission provided IAG members with the opportunity to hear from guest speakers who offered insights into best practice initiatives to embed integrity across the APS. Representatives from the Australian Taxation Office offered an account of their experiences operating a large department within the integrity framework. Simone Webbe, co–author of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) report, Being a trusted and respected partner: the APS integrity framework, outlined the findings of ANZSOG’s research, which was considered as part of the Independent Review of the APS.
The IAG’s scope broadened during the year, with the addition of the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority as a standing member. The success of the IAG in promoting, sharing and embedding integrity across the APS has led to convening of a Deputy Secretary level IAG meeting.
During 2018–19, the Commission observed an increasing demand from agencies across the APS for ethics awareness presentations. In developing each presentation, the Commission worked closely with the respective agencies to ensure the content fulfilled the agency’s need and captured emerging integrity issues relevant to their portfolio functions and to the APS more broadly. Awareness sessions incorporated de–identified case studies drawn from Ethics Advisory Service inquiries to illustrate actual ethical dilemmas experienced in the APS, and to stimulate discussion on practical approaches to confronting ethical issues.
These ethics awareness presentations generated opportunities to present at other APS forums. The Commission was invited to address the Small Agencies Forum, various communities of practice and agency corporate areas on a broad range of topics including the APS Code of Conduct, social media use and caretaker arrangements.
This year the Commission developed and distributed two newsletters to support the Ethics Contact Officer network (ECOnet). The newsletters provided ECOnet members with information on current integrity issues and sought feedback on various policy or guidance documents. Feedback on the utility of the newsletter has been positive.
The Commission hosted two ECOnet meetings. The broad range of agency representatives heard from invited guest speakers and the Commission’s Integrity team members on current successes and challenges relevant to promoting and embedding integrity across the APS. The Commission noted that active participation in the ECOnet declined over the period, and re–invigorating the ECOnet will be a focus area in 2019–20.
The Commission’s Ethics Advisory Service (EAS) continued to be a popular avenue for agencies and individuals to seek advice on the APS ethical framework. While call volume increased from the previous period, the EAS also provided telephone support for the Values Evaluation Project, which inflated the overall call numbers. Of the call subject categories tracked by the EAS, queries about misconduct continued to be the most common, followed by conflicts of interest.
Evaluate agency approaches to incorporate and uphold the APS values
In late 2018 and early 2019, a representative sample of APS agencies and employees participated in a survey designed to assess agencies’ recent performance in embedding the APS Values. This assessment will offer a valuable companion for implementing recommendations that may flow from the Independent Review of the APS.
The survey also provided APS leadership and other stakeholders with more personal insights on the performance of agency approaches since July 2013, when the APS Values were updated in the Act.
The survey further explored different approaches to public service values from relevant jurisdictions in Australia and internationally, and identified both relative alignment with Australian states and territories, and a suite of potential international best practices.
Most respondents were positive about the way the APS Values were embedded in their agency. For example:
- 86 per cent of respondents felt that their agency always or almost always expected full compliance with the APS Values
- 77 per cent of respondents felt their agency always or almost always acted lawfully
- 55 per cent of respondents always or almost always believed their agency complied with Commonwealth anti–discrimination laws
- 54 per cent of respondents always or almost always perceived respectful behavior by SES officers
- 54 per cent of respondents always or almost always saw their agency treat all people with dignity, and
- 53 per cent of respondents always or almost always witnessed their agency handling resources ethically.
A small number of respondents offered suggestions for how the Commission might improve in supporting agency approaches to incorporating and upholding the APS Values.
Other survey results identified a number of strengths and areas of potential improvement in relation to the APS Values. The Commission will work with agencies, including through awareness raising presentations, to better enhance agency approaches to embedding the APS Values.