State of the service

APS Values and the Code of Conduct

The Australian community is entitled to expect employees of the Australian Public Service to behave with the highest personal integrity. The APS Values and the APS Code of Conduct clearly explain the standard expected of employees.

Results from the 2017 APS employee census show that respondents believe their colleagues, supervisors and senior leaders display the APS values in their work. This suggests there is a strong culture of ethical behaviour in the APS.

Figure 1: Perceptions of APS employees – APS Values

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 1.

APS agencies report annually to the Australian Public Service Commission on breaches of the Code of Conduct through the Agency Survey.

Agencies have in place a number of strategies to detect misconduct. Where appropriate, sanctions are applied for misconduct, including reprimands, reductions in salary and termination of employment.

Code of Conduct Investigations involving 596 employees were finalised by APS agencies during 2016-17. In other words, investigations into the behaviour of fewer than 0.3 percent of the total APS workforce were conducted.

There were 121 fewer Code of Conduct investigations undertaken in 2016-17 when compared to the number of investigations in 2015-16.

Table 1: Code of Conduct investigations and breaches

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Table 1.

Of the Code of Conduct investigations undertaken in 2016-17, 89 per cent resulted in a finding that the Code of Conduct had been breached. In the previous year, 87 per cent of investigations resulted in the finding of a breach.

Figure 2: Outcomes of the investigations

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 2.

A reprimand was the most commonly applied sanction, followed by a reduction in salary. Termination of employment occurred in 18 per cent of cases. It is possible for multiple sanctions to be applied in relation to a single act of misconduct.

Figure 3: Sanctions applied

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 3.

Some breaches of the Code of Conduct constitute corruption. Corruption involves the dishonest or biased exercise of a Commonwealth public official’s functions. In many cases, corrupt conduct will justify a serious sanction such as termination of employment. Corrupt conduct can also lead to criminal prosecution of the employee.

In the 2017 APS employee census, 5 per cent of respondents reported they had witnessed another employee engaging in behaviour they considered to be corrupt. Of that 5 per cent:

  1. Sixty-four per cent of those respondents reported that they had witnessed cronyism.
  2. Twenty-six reported that they had witnessed nepotism in the workplace.
  3. Twenty-one per cent reported that they had witnessed ‘green-lighting’, that is making official decisions that improperly favour a person or company, or disadvantage another.

For the first time, in 2017 the APS employee census asked employees whether they believed their workplace operated in a high corruption-risk environment. This was based on whether the agency held information, assets or powers were of value to others. The majority of respondents in 59 agencies agreed that their workplace operated in a high corruption-risk environment. However, even in these high risk workplaces, only 5 per cent of respondents reported having witnessing corrupt behaviour. This is similar to the results for the APS as a whole.

The majority of employees were confident they knew what to do if they witnessed corruption in their workplace. The majority were also confident that their colleagues would report corruption if they witnessed it. Furthermore, employees are aware of the risks and how to handle occurrences of corruption.

Figure 4: Corruption in the workplace

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 4.

While corruption is rare in the APS, attention is still required to reduce its incidence. As well as ensuring that corruption is eliminated, APS leaders should focus on ensuring that employees are confident that if they report corruption it will be acted on appropriately.