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Public service must address conflict of interest: Tas Auditor-General

There is no specific evidence for favouritism in hiring practices in the Tasmanian public service, says the state’s Auditor-General Mike Blake. But Tasmania must  address perceptions of nepotism by amending conflict of interest rules for recruitment panels.

A report by the Auditor-General into recruitment practices in the state service found that while recruitment processes were compliant, more work needs to be done in dealing with processes surrounding conflict of interest.

Blake was concerned that there are currently no procedures in place for declaring conflicts of interest. “Selection processes tested had not identified a means to declare a conflict either explicitly or implicitly,” he said. “Instead, the conflict of interest process relied on self-disclosure by panellists or candidates and there was inconsistency in how these disclosures were made.

“While the review did not identify any specific examples of favouritism, 100% of our sample identified a lack of a strong focus on conflicts of interest.”

It’s hoped that increasing transparency will prevent the perception forming that hiring is subject to nepotism, particularly among unsuccessful candidates.

“There’s nothing wrong with having conflicts of interest, it happens all the time, but it’s important to make sure they’re declared and managed properly”, Blake told The Mandarin.

Among the recommendations of the report is to standardise recruitment and selection processes across agencies, and include an external member on recruitment panels. Panel members should declare and attest to their conflict of interest statuses.

The report noted a lack of any formal record of appropriate recruitment training or skills assessment pertaining to personnel involved in the recruitment process.

There was also a concern that “lack of control in the process for hiring casual or temporary workers had the potential to expose the State Service to a high degree of risk” and that procurement of labour hire workers lacked sufficient oversight by human resources departments:

“This presents a health and safety risk, quite aside from other compliance concerns, including equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination.”

Community and Public Sector Union Assistant Secretary Mat Johnston has expressed concern over the use of casual and labour hire workers in the public service.

“There is minimal need for genuine casuals in the state service and unfortunately the lack of controls pointed out by the Auditor-General can be used to circumvent proper processes on occasions,” he told The Mandarin.

“There is absolutely no requirement for labour hire in the service. Use of third-party workers and lack of direct employment leads to very serious problems in terms of reporting, oversight and adherence to proper processes. Staffing is an employment matter and not a procurement process.”

The publication follows on from an investigation by the Tasmanian Integrity Commission into allegations of nepotism and conflicts of interest by senior health managers, released in May.

A report by the Victorian Ombudsman in March found that conflict of interest “occurs all too frequently in the Victorian public sector”, and that there were inconsistent policies across agencies.

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He's previously written for The Guardian and Crikey and holds a masters in international relations.