DSS Conflict of Interest Policy Guide

1. Purpose

This guide provides managers and employees with information on the appropriate management of conflict of interest within DSS. Effective management involves identifying potential conflicts of interest (real or apparent) and implementing procedures to prevent these situations occurring or introducing measures to remove the circumstances giving rise to the apparent or actual conflict.

2. Authority

The APS Code of Conduct detailed under Section 13 of the Public Service Act 1999, is the principle statutory instrument governing issues related to conflict of interest in the APS. In reference to conflict of interest, the code requires:

(1)    An APS employee must behave honestly and with integrity in connection with APS employment.
(7)    An APS employee must disclose, and take reasonable steps to avoid, any conflict of interest (real or apparent) in connection with APS employment.
(10) An APS employee must not make improper use of:

(a) inside information; or
(b) the employee's duties, status, power or authority; in order to gain, or seek to gain, a benefit or advantage for the employee or for any other person.
In addition, DSS’s Chief Executive’s Instructions make reference to the ethical use of Commonwealth resources under CEI 1.4.

3. Coverage

The proper management and adherence to conflict of interest principles applies to all DSS employees.

In particular all employees working at the SES level are required to sign (and update at least annually) a declaration concerning potential areas where conflicts of interest may arise from their pecuniary and/or personal interests.

All employees or contractors involved in the preparation and assessment of tenders and applications and general purchasing are also required under the DSS guidelines on ethics and probity in Government purchasing to declare any real or potential conflict or remove themselves from the process if they have a relationship with any of the potential applicants.

Contractors are also required as a condition of their contract to advise any potential conflicts of interest arising during the period of the contract.

4. Principles

The APS Values and specifically the APS Code of Conduct cited under the previous heading "Authority", establish the guiding principles to be followed in respect of addressing conflict of interest situations. In particular, the Code identifies the two main responsibilities in respect of conflict of interest:

  • an employee must notify the department of any real or apparent conflict of interest; and
  • an employee should take reasonable steps to avoid or remove themselves from the real or potential conflict.

5. Potential areas of conflict, external employment, receipt of gifts, contract and grant agreement management, recruitment panels, post separation employment, lobbying

An employee's potential exposure to a conflict of interest situation will vary depending on changes to either their departmental role or private and personal activities. One example is in the area of participating in external employment; including volunteering in community organisations. Employees need to ensure no real or perceived conflict arises from their participation and are asked to make this assessment when applying for approval for external employment or community volunteering leave.

SES and other public servants when dealing with lobbyists are also required to pay particular attention to conflict of interest requirements and this is detailed in the departmental guidelines covering the Code of Conduct for Lobbyists.

In a similar respect, where an employee is required to participate in a selection process (including for an employment position or contract for services) and they have a personal or private relationship with any of the actual or potential applicants, they should make a formal and documented declaration concerning this relationship in order that a decision can be made in respect of their ongoing participation in the process.

In another like situation, while it is not uncommon or wrong for couples or other family members to be working in the same agency, it is not usually appropriate for one to have any like responsibility over another. The APSC provides further advice on personal behaviour and conflict of interest in section 4.11 of their "APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice" publication.

Another area of potential risk for a conflict to arise is associated with the acceptance of gifts. As a general principle, employees should not accept gifts or benefits to avoid an actual or perceived conflict of interest. When an employee is offered a gift or benefit, they should consult the relevant departmental guidelines. Employees involved in pre and post separation employment situations including in the transition period prior to a function being outsourced are also required to be mindful of potential conflict of interest issues. The APSC has provided specific advice in respect of these issues in their APSC Circular on this subject.

6. Manager and Employee Role

As discussed in paragraphs 3 and 5 above, the roles and responsibilities of managers and their staff in respect of conflict of interest will vary from time to time depending on their particular functions and circumstances. As a general rule however all employees at all times need to be conscious of and compliant with the APS values and Code of Conduct and the Chief Executive Instructions which summarise the general responsibility in the following way:

"Any circumstance in which an official's public duty impacts their private interests give rise to a conflict of interest. Officials are required to be alert to the possibility of such conflicts and are required to disclose any instances."

Where a manager identifies a potential for conflict involved with a particular project in their section it may be appropriate for all staff engaged on work in that project to sign a declaration to ensure real or perceived conflicts are identified and addressed appropriately. A suggested proforma is provided above. This form should be forwarded to the Section Manager, Workplace Relations and Manager Advisory Section in People Branch to be held on the employee's personnel file when completed.

All new employees and contractors to DSS are required to confirm that no conflict of interest exists at the time of commencing employment with DSS and to undertake to notify DSS of any future conflict should things change in either their personal or professional circumstances.

7. Review of Employment Actions

DSS employees who are dissatisfied with a decision or action taken in relation to conflict of interest may in the first instance seek a review of that decision or action under Part 10 of the DSS Enterprise Agreement 2012-2014.

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