‘Questionable legality’: four key changes for SA’s public servants

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The extent to which the public sector codes of conduct can legitimately interfere with off-duty behaviour is a fertile ground for debate, reared again in South Australia with its new set of rules. Richard Yates outlines four changes that could impact SA’s public servants.

The South Australian government has introduced a new Public Sector Code of Conduct. Many public servants will recall the previous versions of similar documents, for example the blue book that existed under the Public Sector Management Act 1995, and in more recent times, the purple book that was published under the current Public Sector Act 2009 AKA “the old code”. This new iteration, with a questionable and presumably Mondrian inspired multi-coloured cover, is the government’s latest and current pronouncement on the basic standards to be observed by those in the public service.

The code of conduct applies to all SA state government employees. A breach of the code can give rise to a liability to disciplinary action.

So, what are the differences between the old and new codes of conduct? Well, not much. The changes between the two versions are largely cosmetic, with some subtle although potentially controversial changes.

Surprisingly the new version, at 16 pages, comes in some eight pages less than the previous version. Given that most copies will be distributed electronically in most government agencies, the consolidation is probably attributable to a concerted effort to produce a more accessible document rather than concerns about government printing costs. The layout and order of the code is slightly changed, but not in any substantive way. The obligatory motherhood statements about efficiency, accountability and democracy have been rephrased but not in any manner than impacts on the part of the document that has the real work to do, being the specific standards expected of public sector employees.

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