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A culture of integrity

A culture based on high standards of integrity is a core component of public service. A strong ethical culture is essential to detecting, preventing and mitigating risks to integrity.

The Public Service Act 1999 (the Act) articulates the requirement for Australian Public Service (APS) employees to demonstrate high levels of personal integrity. The APS Values and Code of Conduct set out in the Act establish mandatory standards of behaviour in this regard.

An agency culture of integrity is shaped by a consistent tone from the top—the messages and example set by managers in our decisions and our treatment of staff—and an underlying ethos of strong governance and professional standards.

Managers play a key role in APS agencies. As individuals, we can have a strong influence on the work cultures of our teams. We play a critical role in identifying potential risks and reporting any concerns. We are close enough to employees, procedures and processes to be able to identify risks and problematic behaviour, and to model appropriate integrity behaviours. As a group, we influence the culture of our workplaces in the behaviours we adopt and reward.1

The effectiveness of the APS fundamentally depends on public trust in its integrity as an institution and its capacity to look after the public interest rather than its own. A values-based culture is at the heart of a high-performing and trustworthy public service. A culture in which employees are expected and encouraged to act ethically, in which ethical behaviour is modelled for them by their leaders and peers, and in which each aspect of their work is compatible with the APS Values [and Employment Principles], is one in which the public can have confidence.

State of the Service Report, 2012–13

1.1 The business case

As public servants we have an extraordinary opportunity to make a real contribution to our communities. The community and the Government rightly expect us to undertake our work on their behalf conscientiously and professionally.

Exercising good judgement—understanding the options available, taking the best decision and putting it into practice—can be challenging. It is especially important that, as managers, we reflect on the relevance of the APS Values and Code of Conduct to our jobs and the issues we face, and that we make sound decisions. The REFLECT model can assist ethical decision-making.

When something goes wrong we need to act in a timely and decisive manner. This is crucial to maintain the trust of the Government and the community in our ability to manage ourselves. We must address poor or risky behaviour and misconduct promptly when it is identified.

As managers, we need to remember that employees will look to us to demonstrate the right attitude and behaviour in the workplace. We are responsible for:

  • identifying and managing areas of potential risk
  • being open to scrutiny and transparent in decision-making
  • helping people in our teams to manage real or potential conflicts of interest
  • reporting and addressing misconduct and other unacceptable behaviour in a fair, timely and effective way, and
  • being able to demonstrate that resources have been used efficiently, effectively, economically and ethically.

We should ensure that our teams are fully aware of policies and procedures relevant to conduct and professional behaviour and that they know how to report conflicts of interest and other integrity risks.

Failure to act with integrity has impacts at both the personal and organisational level. At a personal level, there are impacts on the careers of people acting without integrity and often also impacts on colleagues and members of the public.

At an organisational level, there are the administrative costs of conducting enquiries as well as costs associated with managing reputational damage—the costs associated with a loss of confidence, from the public, from other agencies and from the Government. Further impacts may include damage to the viability of programs and policies, with flow on effects to industry and the private sector.

1.2 Taking steps

The identification and management of any form of risk is the most cost-effective strategy to mitigate that risk.

Prevention is better, and cheaper, than cure. The cost of identifying, investigating and sanctioning individuals who have breached their obligations can be substantially avoided by implementing measures that educate staff about their responsibilities. However, embedding integrity as a core component of an organisation's culture will only be effective if it is clearly understood.

This guide has been designed to help managers think about integrity risks in their workplaces, and provide some guidance about steps that they can take to help their agency maintain high levels of integrity.

Supporting integrity in APS employment

  • The Public Service Act 1999, particularly:
    • the APS Values (section 10)
    • the APS Employment Principles (section 10A)
    • the APS Code of Conduct (section 13), and
    • review of APS employment actions by the Merit Protection Commissioner (section 33).
  • APS policy and guidelines, particularly APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice.
  • Other key legislation, including:
    • Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013
    • Privacy Act 1988
    • Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013
    • Crimes Act 1914 and Criminal Code Act 1995.
  • Financial policy and guidance including the Commonwealth Procurement Rules.
  • Individual agency legislation, which may prescribe conflict of interest requirements, for example, for a chief executive, board or committee members.
  • Audit by the Auditor-General.

1 Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, Corruption Prevention Toolkit.

Last reviewed: 
30 May 2018