Integrity and ethical conduct

The public sector operates within a well-established framework of accountability. This framework includes ss. 8 and 9 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994 (PSM Act), Commissioner's Instructions No. 7 - Code of Ethics and No. 8 - Codes of conduct and integrity training, and each entity's code of conduct and relevant policies.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development describes integrity as the corner stone of good governance, and defines it as the application of values, principles and norms in the daily operations of public sector bodies.1

The operations of the public sector touch every aspect of business and community life. Public trust is critical to the effectiveness of the sector, and depends on daily actions and behaviour at both the individual and whole-of-sector level.

This chapter provides an overview of compliance with the accountability framework established for the public sector, and the efforts of entities and the Public Sector Commission to promote integrity. It includes some findings of the Commission's Review into how agencies promote integrity and also explores how the public sector can minimise risks associated with gifts, benefits and hospitality.

Reporting assists public entities to address issues of unethical behaviour. One avenue toreport certain types of unethical conduct is the public interest disclosure (PID) process. In late 2012, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003 (PID Act) was strengthened by a number of amendments. Discussion about these amendments and compliance with the PID Act appears at the end of this chapter.

Overall, reported compliance is high and the work of public sector bodies appears to be proving effective in promoting and sustaining integrity. An overwhelming majority of entities report having codes of conduct and other policies in place to guide employees, there is a high level of employee awareness about these codes, and employees perceive their colleagues and leaders as acting ethically.

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Building and sustaining integrity

The public sector actively works to ensure it operates within the accountability framework.

The Public Sector Commissioner establishes the Code of Ethics, sets requirements to enhance integrity, and develops programs and guidance material to promote integrity. The Code of Ethics is published in the WA Government Gazette2 and operates as subsidiary legislation as if it was a regulation, and is subject to s. 42 of the Interpretation Act 1984. It can therefore be scrutinised or disallowed by parliament.

Public sector bodies establish their own codes of conduct and policy requirements, induct and inform their employees, provide leadership and guidance, and manage reports of unethical conduct.

A written set of agreed ethics or values is an important element in organisational conduct. However, it is only one of many elements that help create and maintain an ethical culture.

Expected standards of conduct

The Code of Ethics establishes the minimum standards of conduct for all public sector bodies and employees. The code comprises three principles of personal integrity, relationships with others, and accountability.

To support the Code of Ethics, public sector bodies articulate their own culture and ethics through a code of conduct. This provides a unifying set of ethics, recognising there are fundamental commonalities in the tasks carried out by staff. The Conduct guide assists by identifying the main accountability requirements across the public sector, such as Treasurer's instructions and Commissioner's instructions.

Across the sector, there is a high level of compliance with the Code of Ethics, as well as Commissioner's Instruction No. 8. In the 2013 annual agency survey (AAS), 97% of entities reported having a code of conduct3, compared to 91% in the previous year. For those entities with a code of conduct, 96% indicated it reflects the requirements of both Commissioner's instructions.

In this year's employee perception survey (EPS), there was an increase in the proportion of respondents who indicated they are familiar with their entity's code of conduct (92%,compared to 84% last year). Similarly, there was an increase in awareness of the Code of Ethics, rising to 85% from 70% as shown in Figure 2.1.

Figure 2.1 Employee awareness of ethical codes and policies, 2012 and 2013

Figure 2.1 Employee awareness of ethical codes and policies, 2012 and 2013. Click to view a larger version of this image.

Click on the image to enlarge

Source: EPS

The increased familiarity and awareness in 2013 is a positive result. The Commission believes its work in promoting integrity across the sector has contributed to this upward trend.

It may also be partially accounted for by a higher proportion of EPS respondents from policy, development and coordination entities this year. Staff from these entities, such as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Department of Agriculture and Food, and Department of Sport and Recreation, were more likely to report awareness and familiarity with ethical codes in the 2013 survey than staff from service entities, who formed a greater proportion of the sample in the 2012 EPS.

The reason for this is unclear in the available evidence. However, the service entities in the 2012 EPS sample manage operations across multiple sites, including regional areas. The Commission recognises that it can be more difficult to bring together frontline service staff for training and awareness sessions due to the nature of their work, the constraints of rostering and the challenges associated with delivering specialised training in regional WA. The Commission provides consulting support and practical assistance to public sector bodies facing the challenges of rolling out training programs in such circumstances, and the efforts of entities to deploy relevant programs is acknowledged.

Further information on the entity functional categories and the EPS respondents is available in Appendix A - Monitoring and evaluation framework and Appendix E - Employee perception survey.

Inducting employees

Employee awareness of expected conduct is developed through a range of strategies used by entities to promote the Code of Ethics. In the 2013 AAS, almost all public sector bodies (94%) reported using an induction program for new employees, indicating employees are informed of the expected standards of conduct from the beginning of their employment.

The Commission also runs a public sector induction program introducing employees to the sector's accountability requirements and the role of integrity bodies, such as the Commission, the Office of the Auditor General and the Office of the Information Commissioner. This session complements, rather than replaces, the induction programs of public sector entities.

Recruiting for positions of trust

Accountability is at the heart of maintaining public trust, and is as relevant for an entry level employee as it is for a chief executive. However, there has been a small number of high profile examples of unethical behaviour leading to fraud and other unacceptable outcomes. In some cases, this has involved people occupying significant positions of trust. The damage to an individual and an entity when that trust is abused is considerable, and the loss of trust can be more costly than unethical behaviour itself. Trust takes a long time to build but can be destroyed by just one action, or inaction.

The Commission undertook an examination in 2013 to provide some assurance that appropriate integrity controls were in place for a sample of positions. For these positions, the level of integrity expected of an employee, due to the nature of the role undertaken, was higher than normally expected.

The findings of More than a matter of trust: An examination of integrity checking controls in recruitment and employee induction processes indicated that the sample entities effectively incorporated conduct and integrity elements into induction processes. However, key aspects of recruitment, selection and appointment processes could be improved. Accordingly, a number of recommendations were made to strengthen integrity checking controls. These recommendations included:

  • Information provided to potential applicants should be transparent about any checks and screening controls that will be applied in the recruitment process.
  • Position descriptions should incorporate the demonstration of honesty and integrity as an essential selection criterion.
  • Candidate claims about their integrity and honesty should be tested and validated.
  • Integrity risk management should not stop with induction.

The Accountable and ethical decision making (AEDM) program

The AEDM program is designed to communicate conduct expectations through internal discussions on real ethical dilemmas. AEDM training is most effective when customised to reflect the conduct requirements and risks specific to an organisation, so employees understand how to make appropriate decisions in their daily work environment.

The Commission maintains the AEDM curriculum and supports entities to implement the program. The Commissioner's commitment to this program is evident through his personal delivery to chief executives, corporate executives and government board and committee members (more than 700 people in the past year).

The following case study provides information on tailored integrity sessions conducted by the Commission in 2012/13.

Case study

Promoting a culture of integrity: a partnership approach

The Commissioner, at the direction of the Premier, appointed former Supreme Court judge, the Hon. Peter Blaxell, as Special Inquirer under s. 24H of the PSM Act to investigate the response of entities and officials to allegations of sexual abuse at St Andrew's Hostel in Katanning.

On 19 September 2012, the Premier tabled in the Parliament the inquiry report entitled St Andrew's Hostel Katanning: How the system and society failed our children.4 All five of the inquiry's recommendations and a further two initiatives were endorsed by the Government. One recommendation was the need for the Country High School Hostels Authority (the Authority) to implement a comprehensive ethics training program, incorporating the Commission's AEDM program.

Following the review, the Commission worked with the Authority and the Department of Education to implement a program to build knowledge of ethical requirements and the PID process. The program included the Commissioner hosting the Authority's inaugural accountability forum, attended by all Authority members, board chairpersons and residential college managers. The forum aimed to create a shared understanding of the accountability requirements and unique ethical challenges faced by the Authority.

The Commission also delivered AEDM and PID information sessions to employees and board members at nine residential colleges. Additionally, the Commissioner visited employees at the Geraldton Residential College to acknowledge the work progressed following the review.

Working together, the Authority, the Department of Education and the Commission established a framework of ethics and integrity in each hostel. Maintaining a culture of integrity remains a priority for the Authority, which has committed to the ongoing delivery of a range of initiatives.

AEDM training within entities

A number of new items were included in the AAS this year on AEDM training. For example, 70% of public sector bodies reported having complete records of employees who participated in AEDM training within the entity in the last five years. Those with complete records indicated that 47 680 current employees have completed the training over the past five years, representing 64% of the workforce in these entities at the time of the survey.

By comparison, more entities (84%) reported having records of participation over the last five years for their corporate executives. For these entities, 523 current members had completed the training over the past five years, representing 85% of their corporate executives at the time of the survey.

Recording employee participation rates enables public sector bodies to monitor their implementation of the AEDM program. These results present an opportunity for 30% of entities to improve their recordkeeping practices, and work towards a 100% program completion rate for all employees.

Eighty per cent of public sector bodies reported conducting AEDM training within the entity during 2012/13. For these entities, 17% reported delivering the program through online training developed internally, and 28% through online training developed by external trainers. While it may be cost-effective to deliver the AEDM training online, interaction is an important element of the program and supplementing online learning with face-to-face sessions at the local level is encouraged, where possible.

In 2012/13, the Commission examined five entities in relation to organisational culture, operational strategies, management environment, and review and evaluation processes with respect to promoting integrity. The Review into how agencies promote integrity (integrity review) reported that public sector bodies would benefit from evaluating the effectiveness of their training. This would assist in identifying opportunities for delivery improvement and test whether employees understand the conduct expected in their role, workplace and broader public sector. Evaluation does not need to be a complex process. As an example, the Commission collects information on the knowledge of participants before and after its training sessions.

Communicating conduct expectations throughout employment

While the expected standards of conduct are set out clearly for employees at induction and in the AEDM program, the reinforcement of these standards can occur less frequently than needed during the course of employment. This was confirmed by the findings of the integrity review and the 2013 AAS.

It is prudent to remind staff about expected standards of conduct throughout their employment, such as through regular information sessions, staff newsletters or intranet sites. AEDM refresher programs for employees who undertook the training when it was first introduced may also be appropriate.

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An ethical sector

The evidence suggests most WA public sector employees go about their work in the right way – they 'do the right thing' on a daily basis and have leaders who model this behaviour. A broad culture of ethical behaviour is reflected through the findings of the integrity review, positive employee perceptions about ethical conduct, and a low level of disciplinary breaches.

When asked in both the 2012 and 2013 EPS about the ethical conduct of their colleagues, approximately 90% of respondents agreed:

  • they are treated with respect by other employees in their entity
  • their co-workers demonstrate honesty and integrity in their workplace
  • employees in their workplace behave ethically, professionally and fairly when making decisions that affect their entity's clients and customers.

In 2013, employee perceptions about the application of ethics, in accordance with codes and policies, were also positive:

  • 82% of respondents agreed confidential information in their workplace is only disclosed to appropriate people
  • 76% agreed decisions about purchasing are not influenced by favouritism, gifts or incentives.

Most employees look to their leaders for cues on how to behave in the workplace. Leaders provide information and advice to their employees about how to make accountable and ethical decisions. Public sector leaders are being equipped with the skills to assist employees and influence workplace culture.

Employees are generally positive about the ethical conduct of their leaders. The integrity review found the majority of staff in participating agencies regard senior managers and leaders as positive role models who actively encourage ethical behaviour through facilitated discussions and team meetings.

When asked about their leaders and organisational management in the 2013 EPS:

  • 90% of respondents agreed their entity encourages ethical behaviour by employees (compared to 81% in the Australian Public Service and 84% in the Northern Territory)5
  • 88% agreed their immediate supervisor demonstrates honesty and integrity
  • 76% agreed their senior managers lead by example in ethical behaviour (compared to 64% in Victoria and 61% in New South Wales).6

The findings from the above jurisdictions have been selected for comparison due to similarities in survey methodologies. As shown by the available results, the WA public sector is performing well in this area.

Monitoring activities

Compliance with the Code of Ethics and codes of conduct can be monitored using a range of strategies. Monitoring compliance assists the sector to maintain its culture of integrity – it informs public sector bodies about their ethical health and enables them to take action as appropriate.

This year's AAS indicated internal reviews or audits (83%) and performance management meetings (63%) were most often used by entities for this purpose, similar to previous years.

Another means of monitoring an entity's ethical climate is to use employee surveys. Just over one-quarter (26%) of entities reported using staff survey feedback in this way. While the Commission's EPS schedule allows public sector bodies to participate approximately once every five years, more frequent conduct of surveys within entities may assist in assessing the ethical climate and whether changes to codes, policies or practices are required.

Two men looking at a document together

Encouraging reporting

One of the most valuable information sources to identify and address conduct issues is employees reporting their concerns. Frontline staff are the 'eyes and ears' of the sector and the issues they raise are often the first indication of things going awry. Many instances of serious misconduct have started as small indiscretions that were not reported.

Table 2.1 shows most public sector bodies had strategies in place to encourage employee reporting in 2012/13, similar to previous years. Just under two-thirds of entities (65%) trained managers to handle reports of unethical behaviour, up from 54% last year. As managers are often the first point of contact for reporting unethical behaviour, it is important they are aware of the relevant processes.

Almost all entities (94%) indicated their code of conduct or other policy advised how to report unethical behaviour.

Table 2.1 Entity strategies to encourage employee reporting of unethical behaviour, 2012/13
 

Entities (%)

The way to report unethical behaviour is published in the agency's code of conduct or other policy

94

The agency's PID procedures are accessible to employees

94

The contact names for reporting unethical behaviour are accessible to employees

93

The chief executive has publicised a commitment to the reporting of unethical behaviour in the agency's code of conduct or other policy

83

The agency's code of conduct or other policy contains a statement that victimisation of those reporting unethical behaviour will not be tolerated

83

The agency communicates to employees (e.g. in employee newsletters, emails) how to report unethical behaviour

82

Managers receive training in how to handle reports of unethical behaviour

65

A confidential phone or email service has been set up to encourage the reporting of unethical behaviour

28

Note: These strategies occurred either entity-wide or in some parts of the entities.

Source: AAS

Reporting unethical conduct

This year's EPS indicated strong employee awareness about processes for reporting unethical conduct. In a new item this year, 88% of respondents indicated they are either aware of, or know where to find information on, how to report unethical behaviour, workplace bullying or misconduct. For those who were aware of how to report, close to two-thirds (65%) indicated they are confident to report.

Despite a broadly ethical sector, 25% of EPS respondents reported witnessing unethical behaviour in their workplace in the past 12 months, similar to last year (23%). For these respondents, more than half reported at least some instances of this unethical behaviour (59%). This result is unchanged from last year.

The most common types of unethical behaviour witnessed by respondents in 2013 were inappropriate behaviour (such as unsuitable language and disrespectful treatment of co-workers) and improper use of internet and/or email. In terms of all respondents to the survey, these acts were identified as frequently occurring by a small proportion (8% and 4% respectively), indicating a very low level of misconduct in the public sector.

While the occurrence of unethical behaviour is low, and most employees know how to report unethical behaviour if it does occur, confidence in reporting could be improved. Anecdotal evidence indicates some employees have concerns about whether action will be taken if they report, and the potential negative effect reporting could have on their employment, including relationships with their colleagues. These perceptions are consistent with reasons provided by employees in this year's EPS as to why they did not report bullying (see Chapter 4), and those reported by Australian Government employees.7

The ability to anonymously raise issues may address some of these employee concerns, as could offering a number of mechanisms to report unethical behaviour. This year, one of the least common reporting strategies used by entities was a confidential phone or email service (28%). An example of the use of such a strategy is highlighted in the following case study.

Case study

Department of Health (WA Health) initiative supports internal reporting

In 2009, WA Health's Corporate Governance Directorate launched the ethical advisory line (EAL) to support employees in providing information about unethical conduct.

The free confidential service is managed by directorate members who provide guidance, support and assistance to callers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Where directorate members are unable to assist, the call is referred to an appropriate section within WA Health or to an external organisation. Callers may choose to remain anonymous.

The EAL has received calls about issues such as conflicts of interest, bullying, ethical decision making and programs, and misconduct matters.

In addition to supporting general reporting, the EAL also promotes the PID process. WA Health has one of the largest networks of PID officers in WA. All staff members who manage enquiries are also PID officers.

To maximise its use, WA Health actively promotes the EAL to employees, incorporating information in presentations, including the phone number on business cards and signature blocks, and via an integrity tab on WA Health's intranet.

Shayne Sherman, Assistant Director, Ethical Standards, describes the benefits of the service in promoting a culture of integrity within the department:

'WA Health is a 24/7 service, and the ability for any one of more than 40 000 staff members, from anywhere in the sector, to call at any time, and be able to confidentially discuss ethical issues of concern to the individual and the workplace, is integral to ensuring a healthy work environment.'

Since its inception, the service has provided support and guidance to more than 750callers, with 262 calls received in 2012/13. The EAL is a valuable information source to identify trends for professional development and conduct-related training. The establishment of this service reflects a proactive approach to promoting an ethical workplace.

Responding to integrity risks

Given many public sector bodies come into frequent contact with the private sector and other stakeholders, public officers are likely to be offered gifts, benefits and hospitality and may also be expected to reciprocate. This can raise questions about impartiality in decision making, and the consequences of poor management of gifts, benefits and hospitality have featured in several reports from integrity agencies.8 To manage these risks, clear protocols should be established, and employees made aware of these requirements.

To encourage better practice across the sector, gifts, benefits and hospitality was the feature topic for the Integrity Coordinating Group (ICG) in 2013, and resulted in the launch of the product described in the following case study.9

Case study

Strengthening integrity: managing risks around gifts, benefits and hospitality

The 2013 ICG program included the publication of Gifts, benefits and hospitality - A guide to good practice (the guide) and two awareness raising forums.

The first regional ICG forum was held in Geraldton and was attended by 53 public officers. More than 280 people attended the Perth forum.

The guide assists public authorities to identify and manage the risks associated with gifts, benefits and hospitality and promote good decision making, through sound policies, transparent recordkeeping, communication and review activities. In doing so, the guide encourages authorities to work through the 'five Rs':

  1. risk and reputation: identify the authority's integrity risks and understand how these can affect reputation
  2. requirements: establish the authority's position on managing gifts, benefits and hospitality
  3. raise awareness: communicate the authority's position
  4. record: ensure records show decisions that support the authority's position
  5. review: identify and address emerging risks within the authority.

The guide also includes information for public officers to assist them with making appropriate decisions if they are offered, or need to provide, a gift, benefit or hospitality.

The guide has generated strong interest from public authorities and employees.

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Managing allegations of unethical behaviour

Monitoring the implementation of ethical codes and reports of suspected unethical behaviour ensures appropriate action can be taken. With respect to investigating allegations of unethical behaviour, there is no single ideal model for all public sector bodies.

Similar to last year, most public sector bodies reported having an area responsible for managing and investigating allegations of unethical behaviour (78%), and a code of conduct (66%) or other policy (73%) outlining how such allegations will be managed and investigated.

Smaller entities were much less likely to have an area responsible for managing investigations, with 42% of very small entities having this in place, compared to 93% of large entities.

Improving the management of discipline

It is in the public interest to ensure breaches of discipline are properly managed, and the Commission works closely with entities to improve the sector's ability to manage any breaches. This includes the development of comprehensive guidelines and the provision of advice and assistance to entities on the operation of disciplinary processes.

Disciplinary investigations under Part 5 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994 - A guide for agencies assists human resource practitioners and other staff involved with investigating, or case managing, breaches of discipline within public sector bodies. It sets out the disciplinary framework, steps for conducting an investigation, and common pitfalls. A series of training sessions complementing this product have been delivered.

Investigating disciplinary matters

The 2013 AAS showed just over half of entities (52%) had completed investigations into suspected breaches of discipline10 in 2012/13. For those entities where records were available11, there were 1518 investigations into suspected breaches of discipline completed in 2012/13 (compared to 1562 allegations investigated in the previous year). Of these, 41% were investigations under the PSM Act and 59% were investigations under other instruments, such as industrial awards or policies. Most investigations (88%) were completed within 6 months on average.

Just over one-third (34%) of completed investigations were substantiated in 2012/13. Extrapolating to the broader workforce, this represents a very low level of misconduct in the public sector, averaging four substantiated breaches of discipline for every 1000 employees.

For those investigations into breaches of entity codes of conduct or the Code of Ethics, 39% of suspected breaches were reported as substantiated.12 There was a smaller number of breaches reported this year (479), compared to the previous year (515).13

Table 2.2 shows falsification of information or records, improper use of public resources, and improper use of internet or email were areas where suspected breaches of ethical codes were most often substantiated (62%, 44% and 43%, respectively). The highest number of breaches found (136 substantiated breaches) was in the area of inappropriate behaviour of employees during working hours, such as improper language and disrespectful treatment of co-workers, which also confirms the observations of EPS respondents. These results are considered to represent occasional acts of poor judgement on the part of a few employees, rather than systemic corruption within the WA public sector.

Table 2.2 Types of breaches of ethical codes in entities, 2012/13
 

Number of completed investigations

% of completed investigations found to have breached

Suspected to have breached

Found to have breached

Falsification of information or records

55

34

62

Improper use of public resources (e.g. vehicles)

62

27

44

Improper use of internet or email

40

17

43

Inappropriate behaviour of employees during working hours

324

136

42

Inappropriate behaviour of employees outside working hours

53

21

40

Bullying

40

16

40

Workplace theft

28

10

36

Failure to manage conflicts of interest

34

11

32

Inappropriate access of confidential information

20

6

30

Fraudulent or corrupt behaviour

73

21

29

Unauthorised disclosure of information

59

13

22

Misuse of drugs or alcohol

41

7

17

Inappropriate acceptance of gifts or benefits

3

0

0

Other elements (e.g. not following processes or instructions, inappropriate behaviour in general, physical contact, contractual breach, fraud/theft)

390

156

40

Total

1234(a)

479(b)

39

Note: A completed investigation can be counted against more than one type of breach.

(a) Includes 12 investigations where entities reported the type of suspected breach investigated could not be identified.

(b) Includes four investigations where entities reported the type of breach found could not be identified.

Source: AAS

For those entities where records were available14, Table 2.3 shows the most common outcomes of breaches of ethical codes were reprimands (32% of all outcomes), similar to last year, and written warnings (22%). More than one type of outcome can be associated with a breach.

Table 2.3 Outcomes of substantiated breaches of ethical codes in entities, 2012/13
 

Number of outcomes

Employee reprimanded

218

Formal written warning issued

153

Employee counselled/dispute resolution

64

Improvement notice issued

47

Termination of employment

37

Training and development

32

Deductions from salary by way of a fine

26

No sanction due to resignation or abandonment of employment of investigated employee

19

No sanction imposed for other reasons

19

Employee transferred

14

Management of substandard performance(a)

11

Reduction in salary

10

Re-assignment of duties

7

Reduction in classification

7

Employment contract not extended

3

Others (e.g. mark record as not suitable for hire, repudiation of contract, excluded from site)

11

Total

681(b)

Note: A completed investigation can be counted against more than one type of outcome.

(a) The management of substandard performance is viewed as discrete from the management of breaches of ethical codes.

(b) Includes three outcomes where entities reported the type of outcome could not be identified.

Source: AAS

Overall, the low level of substantiated breaches, along with positive employee perceptions and the findings of the Review into how agencies promote integrity, indicate most public sector employees are acting with integrity, supported by both ethical leadership and a well-established framework of accountability.

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Public interest disclosure

The role of a discloser is essentially that of an informant, serving a crucial role in detecting and reporting unethical behaviour.

A PID, as defined in s. 5 of the PID Act, is the appropriate disclosure of public interest information to a proper authority. The PID Act facilitates this process by providing protection to disclosers and those who are the subject of disclosures, and a system for the matters disclosed to be investigated and for appropriate action to be taken.

This section of the report meets the Commissioner's requirement under s. 22 of the PID Act to report annually to parliament. The section covers public authorities including public sector bodies, entities listed in Schedule 1 of the PSM Act and government boards and committees. Further information is provided in Appendix A - Monitoring and evaluation framework.

Changes to the PID Act

On 21 November 2012, the PID Act was amended when the Evidence and Public Interest Disclosure Legislation Amendment Act 2012 came into effect. In summary, the changes included:

  • enhancing protections for disclosers of public interest information
  • expressly enabling a person to make an anonymous disclosure
  • allowing a disclosure to be made to a journalist under certain conditions
  • providing circumstances where the identity of the discloser and the subject of a disclosure can be revealed.

An overview of the PID Act and the changes are further explained in Appendix C - Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003.

Commission activities to communicate the changes

In accordance with s. 19(2) of the PID Act, the Commissioner has a role to assist public authorities and officers to comply with the PID Act and the PID code of conduct and integrity.

As part of this role, the Commission distributed a fact sheet of the PID Act changes and the activities that should be taken by principal executive officers (PEOs), and provided information about the changes within its training program for PID officers.

The Commissioner also personally met with 189 government board and corporate executive members in 2012/13 to inform them of their responsibilities under the PID Act. This year, the Commission's advisory service responded to 247 requests for advice and support related to PIDs.

Disclosures of public interest information

Under the PID Act, PEOs are required to report to the Commissioner on the number and nature of PIDs received each year.

In 2012/13, public authorities reported receiving 51 disclosures (compared to 53 in the previous year). Forty-five of these were received by public sector bodies and six by PSM Act Schedule 1 entities (including three local government authorities, two government trading enterprises and one public university). No disclosures were reported from government boards and committees in 2012/13.

Of these 51 disclosures, 14 were assessed as appropriate for the purposes of ss. 3 and 5 of the PID Act (13 in public sector bodies and one in a government trading enterprise). Public authorities advised the remaining disclosures were assessed as not appropriate15 for reasons such as not containing information that met the definition of public interest information, or not being made to a proper authority.

The number of disclosures received and assessed as not appropriate (36, with one assessment still in progress) is the same as last year. It is important that public authorities inform employees about the PID process and encourage potential disclosers to seek advice from a PID officer prior to making their disclosure. This will assist disclosers to understand whether PID is the most appropriate reporting avenue.

Table 2.4 shows the number of disclosures assessed as appropriate over the last five years, as reported by public authorities. Issues raised under the PID Act continue to represent a very small proportion of all public sector conduct matters.

Table 2.4 Disclosures assessed as appropriate, 2008/09 to 2012/13

Proper authority to whom disclosures were made

2008/09

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

PID officers for public authorities

6

14

11

13

8

Other proper authorities named in the PID Act

7

4

1

4

6

Total

13

18

12

17

14

Source: PID registers

In 2012/13, the discloser was most often a current employee of the public authority about which they made the disclosure (eight), followed by a member of the public (two), a past employee and an employee of another authority. There were two anonymous disclosures. This is similar to previous years.

The type of public interest information contained in the disclosures also showed a similar pattern to past reporting years. Most involved improper conduct (10), followed by substantial irregular or unauthorised use of public resources (three), substantial mismanagement of public resources (two), offence under written law (two) and matters covered by the Ombudsman (two).16

Under s. 8 of the PID Act, public authorities must investigate, or cause to be investigated, any disclosures assessed as appropriate. Three disclosures were referred and three were not investigated as provided for under the PID Act. Eight investigations were undertaken in 2012/13, of which three were found to have substance, four were found to lack substance and one was ongoing.

Of the three disclosures found to have substance, all resulted in practice improvements being implemented in the public authorities.

Table 2.5 shows other activities that authorities reported undertaking to handle the disclosures.

Table 2.5 Activities undertaken for the disclosures assessed as appropriate, 2012/13

Activity

Number of PIDs reported

Notification to discloser

Where an appropriate disclosure is made, proper authorities are to notify the discloser within three months after the disclosure is made of the action taken, or proposed to be taken, in relation to the disclosure (s. 10 of the PID Act).

13(a)

Final report

When an investigation is complete, proper authorities must provide a final report to the discloser (s. 10 of the PID Act).

9(b)

Confidentiality

The identity of the informant and the subject of the disclosure can only be revealed in certain circumstances (s. 16 of the PID Act).

4(c)

Detrimental action or victimisation

A discloser can seek remedies for acts of victimisation through a proceeding in tort or under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (s. 15 of the PID Act).

0

(a) Does not include one disclosure where the discloser's identity was anonymous.

(b) Does not include disclosures where the discloser remained anonymous, the PID was referred to the Ombudsman or the investigation was incomplete.

(c) For three disclosures, the discloser's identity was revealed to assist the investigation process and for the fourth, the discloser's identity was revealed on grounds of natural justice.

Source: PID registers

PID officers

Under the PID Act, public authorities must have at least one position designated as a PID officer to receive, assess and manage disclosures.

In 2012/13, most public authorities (91%) that completed the AAS or the PID survey reported designating at least one occupant of a specified position to receive disclosures under the PID Act. The Commission continues to educate authorities about this requirement.

The contact details of more than 450 PID officers are published in the Commission's PID officer contact directory to assist people who are considering making a disclosure.

The PID code of conduct and integrity outlines the minimum standards of conduct and integrity to be met by PID officers.

One government committee reported receiving allegations in 2012/13 that its PID officers did not comply with the code and that it is following up these allegations.

Other strategies used by public authorities

Similar to previous years, public authorities reported using a number of strategies to ensure they complied with the PID Act and PID code of conduct and integrity in 2012/13. These were:

  • publishing internal procedures on the PID process (65%)
  • publishing the names of the authority's PID officers (64%)
  • publishing the Commission's PID advice and referral line number (38%)
  • ensuring PID officers attend the Commission's PID officer training (35%)
  • distributing the web link to the Commission's PID awareness video (31%)
  • ensuring employees attend the authority's PID awareness sessions (25%)
  • providing in-house training to PID officers (14%).

The Commission continues to update and release new products to assist public authorities to improve PID awareness.

Employee awareness and confidence

The 2013 EPS results indicated the majority of employees are aware of PID processes. Key findings were:

  • 64% of respondents are aware of the PID Act and how to make a disclosure, or know where to find out, similar to last year's results (61%)
  • 36% are not aware of the PID Act or do not know how to make a disclosure (compared to 39% in 2011/12).

This year, only those employees who indicated they are aware of the PID Act and how to make a disclosure were asked whether they would use the PID Act to make a disclosure. Sixty-five per cent of respondents who knew about PID processes indicated they would consider using the PID Act at least sometimes to make a disclosure.

Figure 2.2 shows the majority of respondents who knew about PID processes expressed confidence in them this year. Just over three-quarters (76%) were at least somewhat confident that a proper authority would ensure adequate investigation of a PID. The Commission encourages public authorities to use its awareness products to improve employee awareness of, and confidence in, PID processes.

Figure 2.2 Employee confidence in PID processes, 2013

Figure 2.2 Employee confidence in PID processes, 2013. Click to view a larger version of this image.

Click on the image to enlarge

Note: Only those EPS respondents who indicated they were aware of the PID Act and how to make a disclosure were asked these survey questions this year.

Source: EPS

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Key chapter findings

Overall, the work of public sector bodies seems to be proving effective in promoting and sustaining integrity. Most employees view their entity as upholding an ethical culture, and this is supported by the actions of their senior leaders, most of whom have been trained in accountable and ethical decision making.

Nearly all entities report having a code of conduct that reflects the sector's Code of Ethics. While this is an excellent result, the Commission is also available to provide support to public sector bodies to develop and revise codes of conduct, as needed.

Most public sector bodies indicate they are conducting AEDM training. However, opportunities to build on the success of the program include incorporating more face-to-face delivery methods and implementing refresher programs throughout employment.

Providing a range of reporting avenues, including the option to report anonymously through a telephone service, may help increase employee confidence in reporting unethical behaviour.

Authorities should actively encourage those considering making a PID to seek advice before doing so. This will help disclosers to understand whether PID is the most appropriate reporting avenue, and may assist to reduce the proportion of disclosures assessed as not appropriate.

The available evidence suggests that misconduct in the public sector is a rarity in the context of the hundreds of thousands of decisions and transactions made each day, and is well managed if it does occur.

A woman wearing a safety helmet and high-visibility jacket looks at an excavation

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1 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 'Fighting corruption in the public sector'

2 State Law Publisher 2012, 'Public service', Western Australian Government Gazette, no. 114, p.3004

3 One very small entity and one small entity did not have a code of conduct. Another very small entity accessed policies and procedures through an administrative arrangement with a larger entity.

4 Blaxell, P, the Hon. 2012, St Andrew's Hostel Katanning: How the system and society failed our children

5 Australian Public Service Commission 2012, State of the service report 2011-12, p. 31; and Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment 2011, Northern Territory public sector employee survey report 2011, p. 46

6 State Services Authority 2013, The state of the public sector in Victoria 2011-12, p. 128; and New South Wales Public Service Commission 2012, People matter employee survey 2012 - Main findings report, p. 18

7 Australian Public Service Commission 2012, State of the service report 2011-12, p. 63

8 Examples include: Office of the Auditor General 2012, Audit results report: Annual 2011-12 assurance audits (report 14) and Corruption and Crime Commission 2011, Report on the investigation of alleged public sector misconduct in relation to the purchase of toner cartridges in exchange for gifts outside government procurement policies and arrangements

9 The Integrity Coordinating Group 2013, Gifts, benefits and hospitality - A guide to good practice

10 This includes allegations of breaches of entity codes of conduct or the Code of Ethics.

11 One small entity was unable to provide the number of completed investigations under the PSM Act.

12 One small entity and one large entity were unable to provide further information on the number of breaches of their code of conduct or the Code of Ethics so are excluded from this calculation.

13 These figures exclude PSM Act Schedule 1 entities, which are not reported in this report. Further information is available in Appendix A - Monitoring and evaluation framework.

14 One large entity was unable to provide the number of outcomes.

15 One disclosure received by a public sector body was in progress at the time of the AAS and had not yet been assessed.

16 Some of the disclosures included more than one category of public interest information.


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Page last updated 23 January 2014