VPSC wants standard conflict of interest policy

By David Donaldson

Friday July 29, 2016

The Victorian Public Sector Commission has released a new model policy for how public servants should deal with conflicts of interest in a bid to boost integrity and provide consistency between departments.

It follows corruption hearings involving conflicts of interest in the Department of Education earlier this year and charges against former Transport employees.

“Recent high profile integrity failures have highlighted the need to improve the way we identify, prevent and manage conflicts of interest,” says Victorian Public Sector Commissioner Belinda Clark.

“The VPSC’s new resources will assist organisations to do this and will provide minimum standards for consistency across the sector.”

The commission has also developed a number of tools, including a guide to applying the conflict of interest principles and declaration forms for private interest and for conflicts of interest.

All Victorian government organisations should check their conflict of interest policy meets the standards set out by the commission, Clark suggests.

“Managing the risks associated with conflict of interest are fundamental to ensuring high levels of integrity and public trust in the Victorian public sector. We urge all organisations to review their current policies and procedures and apply the minimum standards set out in the VPSC’s new materials.”

It identifies a number of high risk functions within the Victorian public sector, including procurement, recruitment and internal committee governance.

In March 2016, the Victorian secretaries board made a commitment to review policies and procedures for identifying and managing actual and potential conflicts of interest.

To create the new model policy, the VPSC reviewed the conflict of interest policies currently in place across the seven departments, Victoria Police and the VPSC itself. It provides scope for organisations to add any additional requirements to ensure that specific risks are addressed, while creating standard expectations across the sector.

Public sector organisations are also encouraged to adopt the model policy.

Earlier this year the VPSC published new rules for directors of public sector entities — covering everything from school boards to public hospitals and cemetery trusts.

New South Wales updated its conflict of interest policy last year, bringing it into line with the rest of the country by requiring senior bureaucrats to declare private interests in writing.

Conflict of interest has also been a big topic of debate in Tasmania recently, with Tasmanian Integrity Commission acting CEO Michael Easton releasing a statement arguing:

“Unfortunately, there appears to be a prevailing view in Tasmania that conflict of interest is not a big deal. Our investigations and prevention work show this is far from the case — it is one of the most common risk factors for misconduct and is a real concern for the Tasmanian community.”

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