Victoria’s tough new gifts rules for government employees

By David Donaldson

Tuesday October 25, 2016

Victorian public servants will be required to record offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality on their organisation’s register even if they aren’t accepted, according to new integrity rules.

Working in consultation with the Victorian Secretaries Board, the Victorian Public Sector Commission has set new minimum standards across the sector, tightening requirements in the VPS Gifts, benefits and hospitality policy framework and putting a greater emphasis on a principles-based approach.

“Recent high profile integrity failures have highlighted the need to improve the way we need to manage gifts, benefits and hospitality”, says Victorian Public Sector Commissioner Belinda Clark.

“The VPSC’s updated materials will assist organisations and individuals to ensure that gifts, benefits and hospitality are managed in line with community expectations.

“Managing gifts, benefits and hospitality can be difficult in the public sector — what’s normal behaviour in private or community circles can lead to perceptions of conflict of interest within the public sector. The VPSC’s updated policy framework will bring greater rigour and transparency to how gifts, benefits and hospitality are managed across the Victorian public sector.”

Changes to the minimum accountabilities under the framework include:

  • Reducing the value of a “token” offer. The policy framework distinguishes between token and non-token offers. A token offer is an offer of a gift, benefit or hospitality that is of trivial value and does not create an actual or potential conflict of interest. A token offer cannot be worth more than an estimated $50 (or $100, for employees in Victorian government schools in some circumstances).
  • A greater focus on a principles-based approach, recognising that each person needs to assess and determine whether an offer has a legitimate business purpose and then whether it presents an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest. This recognises the wide variety of roles across the public sector and the range of situations in which gifts, benefits and hospitality need to be managed.
  • Stronger reporting and transparency requirements. Individuals must record all non-token offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality on their organisation’s register, irrespective of whether or not the offer was accepted. This will allow organisations to identify if repeated offers are coming from a particular source.
  • Organisations are required to publish their gifts, benefits and hospitality register on their websites.

Public servants must decline non-token offers that, if accepted, would be seen as an inducement or give rise to an actual or perceived conflict of interest. They must also declare and record all non-token offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality.

The VPSC has also developed new resources to help manage gifts, benefits and hospitality. This includes a model gifts, benefits and hospitality policy and templates for a declaration form and register. The materials are available on the VPSC website.

The updated policy framework and related materials are part its the Victorian Secretaries Board’s commitment to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission to review the VPSC’s gifts, benefits and hospitality policies and guidance.

The VPS is undertaking a raft of upcoming integrity reforms following a series of high profile IBAC investigations. These include uniform conflict of interest rules, a Speak Up initiative and using the state’s new behavioural insights unit to promote integrity.

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