Public sector gift register should only improve public trust

By Stephen Easton

September 7, 2016

Vector White Square Gift Box with Blue Ribbon and Bow Isolated on Background

Whether it’s police officers, teachers, firefighters or any other government employees, they don’t need gifts just for doing their jobs and the Tasmanian Integrity Commission would prefer if grateful people just said thank you.

On the other hand, the low value of most the largesse listed in the state’s new combined public sector gift register demonstrates there is little risk of corruption in this regard. Very few of the gifts listed are even worth over $100, which wouldn’t buy you much as a bribe.

The TIC has been running an awareness campaign based around the “thanks is enough” message this year, after it looked into the issue last September and reported “concerning complacency” about the potential integrity risk within government agencies.

The register, which the TIC argues should be published like the ministerial gift register, appears to show public sector employees overwhelmingly doing the right thing: declining unnecessary or inappropriate offers, or accepting them and immediately donating them to charity auctions or other worthy causes.

In this way, the police funnelled $480 worth of V8 Supercar tickets to a Police and Citizens Youth Club, and passed on over $1000 worth of marine safety equipment to Marine and Safety Tasmania.

One very prudent Department of Education employee takes the issue so seriously they declined someone’s offer to pay for a $4 coffee, although someone else from the police corporate services area was happy to have their $5 “hot beverage” bill covered.

There’s plenty of evidence that some Tasmanian parents send their children to school with a box of chocolates for the teacher at the end of term, and who knows what they’re expecting in return? Nothing, probably, although the possibility of grades-for-gifts rackets in the state’s schools can’t be discounted.

In fact, the list — which the heads of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Treasury argued should not be published — contains very little, if anything, that could call the integrity of any arm of the Tasmanian Government into question. It shows decisions about what to do when a gift is offered or just turns up at the office are made on a case-by-case basis, and without the full details of the particular situation, it’s hard to say any was unreasonable.

In some cases, the Department of State Growth’s returns explain they accepted trivial gifts because “to refuse would cause offence” and show that decisions are supported by advice from the division head.

The most expensive gift on Education’s list, for example, is a $400 Samsung Galaxy tablet “used for education purposes” at a school, and other items running to the hundreds of dollars also appear to be welcome donations of a similar nature.

Nevertheless, thanks to the TIC’s insistence on publishing the register, Tasmanians can now rest assured that while the chocolates, coffees, meals and legitimate donations to fire brigades are flowing freely, their state officials don’t seem to be in the pockets of the rich and powerful.

Anyone perusing the document for insight into the workings of the Tasmanian public sector might also find it rather interesting reading in parts.

Some organ of the Education department helped out persons unknown with their “family history research” and scored “half a Cheesecake Shop black forest cake” in return. A police station in the state’s north was presented with a red rose, while an official at the Department of Justice was given fake flowers worth a grand $3.

Someone else in the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment thought it best to confess that a cafe gave them three “paleo puffs” because they’re a good customer. A few of their colleagues must feel relieved to come clean and admit a caterer once left behind a 350g block of chocolate which they kept, all $2 worth.

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