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NSW code of conduct: senior bureaucrats must now declare

Senior New South Wales public sector executives will now have to declare interests, mirroring the rules in other states under a new code of conduct.

Public service commissioner Graeme Head will release the new code as a legally enforceable directive that secretaries and agency heads must implement with a deadline of September this year.

New sector-wide mandatory behaviours require consistency with the values of integrity, trust, service and accountability that were established as a framework in the government sector employment legislation two years ago, and report breaches of that framework. They will also be required to act in the “public interest”. The new code states:

“Acting in the public interest requires leadership, courage and innovation to develop practical recommendations and actions that are consistent with the core values and will help the Government of the day achieve its objectives. Acting in ways that are expedient or convenient, but which do not promote the integrity, trust, service and accountability of the public sector, is not in the public interest.”

It advises public sector employees to treat all people with whom they have contact in the course of their work equally without prejudice or favour, and with honesty, consistency and impartiality.

Managers and executives will have additional expectations of promoting and enforcing this framework, as well as recognising team conduct that exemplifies the values.

Senior executives, including staff acting in those roles, will have to declare in writing their private interests that have the potential to influence, or could be perceived to influence, decisions. Conflicts can include private financial, business and other interests or family relationships. A declaration is mandatory and must be updated annually, even if it’s “nil return”. Agencies are encouraged to modify the declaration templates to suit the types conflicts their executives may face.

Breaches of these expectations have been highlighted in cases before IBAC, Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, but have not yet come to much attention at ICAC, NSW’s equivalent Independent Commission Against Corruption.

This brings NSW into line with other Australian jurisdictions, Head told The Mandarin. Consultation has also been extensive, including agency heads, the secretaries board, watchdog and integrity agencies and human resource professionals across the sector.

“Our focus was on how to frame the obligations because the obligation would be part of the code of conduct, and people need to take that very seriously because to not disclose is a breach of the code of conduct,” he said.

“It’s a material improvement of the robustness of the system in NSW where it wasn’t this obligation and we’ve mirrored how this obligation has been [in other jurisdictions]. Like everything we do in this space, where there are other players who would be interested, we consult with heads of agencies and we consult with other watchdog agencies and integrity agencies that have an interest.”

The code, officially called Code of Ethics and Conduct for NSW government sector employees, is a slightly different take on similar codes such as the Australian public service’s legislated code of conduct.

The commission has also released a Behaving Ethically guide to assist public sector employees of all ranks understanding the principles behind what is expect of them as public servants.

NSW government sector core values

There is no hierarchy among the core values and each is of equal importance.

The core values for the government sector and the principles that guide their implementation are:

Integrity

  • Consider people equally without prejudice or favour
  • Act professionally with honesty, consistency and impartiality
  • Take responsibility for situations, showing leadership and courage
  • Place the public interest over personal interest

Trust

  • Appreciate difference and welcome learning from others
  • Build relationships based on mutual respect
  • Uphold the law, institutions of government and democratic principles
  • Communicate intentions clearly and invite teamwork and collaboration
  • Provide apolitical and non-partisan advice

Service

  • Provide services fairly with a focus on customer needs
  • Be flexible, innovative and reliable in service delivery
  • Engage with the not-for-profit and business sectors to develop and implement service solutions
  • Focus on quality while maximising service delivery

Accountability

  • Recruit and promote employees on merit
  • Take responsibility for decisions and actions
  • Provide transparency to enable public scrutiny
  • Observe standards for safety
  • Be fiscally responsible and focus on efficient, effective and prudent use of resources

More at The Mandarin: Framing ethics from good principles: Graeme Head’s new guide

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.