Australian and Overseas Public Service and Ministerial Staff
Codes of Conduct
E-Brief: Online Only issued 8 June 2004
Politics and Public Administration Section
In December 2003 the Parliamentary Library published an e-brief on
codes of conduct for members of parliament titled Codes
of Conduct in Australian and some Overseas
Parliaments. This companion e-brief considers public
sector codes of conduct. It provides links to relevant documents
and a summary of codes of conduct covering federal and state public
servants and staff working for ministers. It also includes conduct
arrangements for public service and ministerial staff in some
In Australia, statutory codes of conduct for public servants
operate at the federal and state government levels. In contrast,
the federal and state governments, except for Queensland, have not
introduced codes of conduct covering ministerial staff.
The approach to public service codes of conduct varies between
jurisdictions. Most states have introduced general public service
codes of conduct that are enshrined in legislation. In some cases,
agencies are required to use the broad model to develop
agency-specific codes, which are not statutory instruments. In
other cases, such as the Australian Public Service, the generic
code applies to all agencies. Unlike the United Kingdom, Canada and
Ireland, Australia has made little progress in introducing codes of
conduct covering ministerial staff.
The variation in approach to public service codes is reinforced
by an OECD survey on ethics. The survey results were reported in a
conference paper titled Building
trust in government: lessons from OECD countries delivered by
Dr J nos Bert k in October 2002. In reference to standards of
behaviour Bert k stated that:
OECD countries state the standard of behaviour expected of
public servants in a collection of documents. The three most common
forms are laws, codes of conduct, and guidelines. More that
two-thirds of OECD countries established a legal framework for the
standards of behaviour expected of public servants. The form of
legal documents ranges from Constitutions, general acts on civil
service or public service, administrative procedures law, labour
law, to dedicated codes on standards of conduct, disciplinary act
and the conflict of interest and post-employment codes. Codes of
conduct and codes of ethics or a civil service code are also a
commonly used source in over one-third of the Member countries.
Information on ministerial staff can be found in the following
Parliamentary Library publications by Dr Ian Holland: Accountability
of Ministerial Staff? , Research Paper, No. 19, 2001
02 and Post-separation
Employment of Ministers , Research Note, No. 40, 28
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Australian Public Service (APS)
Service Act 1999 moves away from the rules of process that
characterised the previous Act. It articulates principles, gives
greater flexibility to individual agencies and devolves:
significant employer powers to agency heads, balanced by
stronger accountability for the use of those powers. Most
importantly, it articulates APS values, giving them firm
legislative effect, and requiring agency heads to uphold them and
promote them in their agencies.(1)
One of the key parts of the Act is its focus on values rather
than rules. The APS Values are listed in section
10 of the Act. A Code of Conduct is also included in the Act
and includes the requirement that employees uphold all the APS
Values. The Code is listed in section
Agency heads are required to uphold and promote the APS Values
within their agencies. The current Public Service Commissioner,
Andrew Podger, has described the Commissioner s
responsibility relating to APS Values as evaluating the extent
to which Agencies incorporate and uphold the Values, and to
evaluate the adequacy of systems and procedures in Agencies for
ensuring compliance with the Code of Conduct .
The Public Service Commissioner also provides an annual report
on the state of the Australian Public Service. This report includes
an evaluation of the extent to which agencies have incorporated the
APS Values and the adequacy of their systems and procedures for
ensuring compliance with the Code of Conduct. The report is crucial
to the maintenance of accountability across the Service.
The Public Service Act sets out who is bound by the Code of
14) and actions available to agency heads in dealing with
breaches of the Code (section
15). The Act provides protection for whistleblowers in
reporting breaches of the Code (section
16) and establishes the position of the Merit Protection
Commissioner who assists agencies to meet the requirements of the
APS Values and the Code of Conduct.
In 2003 the Australian Public Service Commission published
and Code of Conduct in Practice: a guide to official conduct for
APS employees and agency heads. The introduction describes
the Guide in the following way:
The aim of this publication is to assist APS employees to
understand the practical application of the APS Values and Code of
Conduct in both common and unusual circumstances. Along with the
Commission s Good Practice Guide, Embedding the APS
Values, it is also intended to assist Agency heads to
establish policies and procedures that promote the APS Values and
ensure compliance with the Code.
The Merit Protection Commissioner is required to report annually
to the Public Service Commissioner. The report is included in the
Public Service Commissioner s annual report.
State of the Service Report 2002 03 has, for the first time,
reported on elements of the Code suspected of being breached and
the outcome of investigations into breaches.
Australian Parliamentary Service
Service Act 1999 established a separate Parliamentary
The Act s substantive provisions are very similar or reflect the
same philosophy as those in the Public Service Act
Like the Public Service Act 1999, this Act emphasises
values rather than rules. The Values are listed in section
10 and the Parliamentary Service Code of Conduct is listed in
The Act also sets out who is bound by the Code of Conduct
14) and actions available to agency heads in dealing with
breaches of the Code (section
15). The Act provides protection for whistleblowers in
reporting breaches of the Code (section
The Parliamentary Service Act provides for a Parliamentary
Service Commissioner and a Merit Protection Commissioner. Although
the APS and the Parliamentary Service are statutorily separate, the
current holders of the office of Public Service Commissioner and
Merit Protection Commissioner also perform the same roles for the
At present there is no code of conduct governing ministerial
staff. Ministerial staff are given non-binding guidance on conduct
through the Prime Minister s
Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility. This
is largely confined to conflict of interest issues (see section 9
titled Ministerial Staff Conduct ).
Two recent Senate committees have recommended that ministerial
staff be more accountable. In October 2002 the
Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident
recommended the development of a Code of Conduct for ministerial
advisers incorporating a Statement of Values commensurate with
Conduct and Values provisions that apply within the Australian
Public Service (Recommendation 11).
Similarly in October 2003 the Senate Finance and Public
Administration References Committee report,
Staff employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act
1984, recommended that a code of conduct for ministerial
staff be developed and implemented (Recommendation 9). The
Committee also noted (paragraph 6.19) that the codes for
ministerial and non-ministerial staff need to be different, and
would have to be administered by different entities.
To date there has been no government response to either
New South Wales
Memorandum 97 10 advised ministers and agency heads that the
Premier s Department and the Independent Commission Against
Corruption had revised the model NSW public sector code of conduct
to ensure that it continues to serve as an appropriate model for
agency-level codes .
Guidelines were also developed to assist agencies in reviewing,
revising and implementing their own code of conduct.
Model Code of Conduct for NSW Public Agencies: Policy and
Guidelines states that the purpose of the model code
To form the basis for agency-level codes of conduct developed to
suit the particular operational requirements and circumstances of
To provide guidance on the standards of behaviour expected of
public sector employees.
Information on the Code of Conduct is included in the
Personnel Handbook published by the Premier s Department s
Public Sector Management Office.
In 1998 the Premier s Department published the
Code of Conduct and Ethics for Public Sector Executives.
This code states that public sector executives are required to
acknowledge and agree to uphold the principles and practices
described in this Code , under the terms of their Contract of
Employment . The Code notes that Executives must also comply with
the requirements of their own agency s code of conduct.
The Commissioner for Public Employment publishes the
Code of Conduct for the Victorian Public Sector. In the
foreword the Commissioner states that:
Your employer will either adopt this code or adapt it to your
organisation s needs. Any public sector organisation s code must be
consistent with the code I publish. The code of conduct is a public
statement of how we conduct our business and how we treat the
public, our clients and colleagues. It builds upon the employment
and conduct principles contained in the
Public Sector Management and Employment Act 1998. Those
principles are binding on all Victorian public sector employees,
from the chief executive down.
Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 defines the ethics
principles and obligations for public officials and sets out the
framework for the codes of conduct to be developed by each agency.
Formal approval of an agency s code is usually by the Minister
responsible for the agency. Directive 9/96:
Code of Conduct issued by the Public Service Commissioner
prescribes the relevant Code of Conduct, contravention of a
provision of which is a ground for discipline under the
Public Service Act 1996 .
In June 1995 the Public Sector Management Commission issued
for the Development of Codes of Conduct to assist agencies
to develop codes of conduct and meet the other requirements of the
Public Sector Ethics Act.
The Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 defines a conflict of
interest issue as an issue about a conflict between the person s
personal interests and the person s official duties . Any conflict
of interest must be resolved in favour of the public interest. The
Act established the office of the Integrity
Commissioner who is responsible for giving advice to designated
persons about conflict of interest issues. This list of
designated persons includes ministerial staff. The Integrity
Commissioner is also responsible for giving the Premier advice on
setting ethical standards, when that advice is sought .
Public Sector Management Act 1995 (Part 2) sets out the
ethical framework for public sector employees. It applies to all
public sector employees and agencies. The Commissioner for Public
Employment has published a Code of Conduct for
South Australian Public Sector Employees. This Code
outlines the meaning and application of the three broad elements
(integrity, respect and accountability) that underpin ethics and
standards of conduct in the South Australian public sector. The
Commissioner has also issued a Guideline
on Ethical Conduct for the South Australian Public Service.
PSM Act Determination 9: Ethical Conduct has also been issued
by the Commissioner. This Determination outlines responsibilities
in relation to the ethical conduct of public servants and the
management of conduct disciplinary processes .
Service Act 2000 sets out the State Service Principles (s.
7) and the State Service Code of Conduct (s. 9). The Code applies
to all State Service officers and employees.
In May 2002 the Public Service Commissioner issued Procedures for the
investigation and determination of whether an employee has breached
the Code of Conduct. The introduction notes that the State
Service Code of Conduct complements the State Service Principles
and may be supplemented by Agency specific standing orders .
Sector Management Act 1994 created an independent
statutory office of the Commissioner for Public Sector Standards.
Section 21 outlines the functions of the Commissioner which include
Establish public sector standards setting out minimum standards
of merit, equity and probity to be complied with in the Public
Sector in and monitor compliance with those public sector
Establish codes of ethics setting out minimum standards of
conduct and integrity to be complied with by public sector bodies
and employees, and monitor compliance with those codes
Assist public sector bodies to develop, amend or repeal codes of
Western Australia Public Sector Code of Ethics came into
force on 1 March 2002. It sets the minimum standards of conduct and
integrity for the WA public sector. It does not prevent the
development of agency-specific codes of conduct and applies to all
public sector employees including chief executive officers.
Australian Capital Territory
Public Sector Management Act 1994 sets out the general
obligations of public employees. These include sections outlining
values and general principles (sections 6, 7, 8) and a Code of
Ethics (section 9).
Sector Management Standards operate under the Act.
Standard No. 4 on Ethics provides practical advice on the
application of the code of ethics. The ACT Public
Service Best Practice Notes (1.1 Code of Ethics) provide
advice on the processes and practices required under the Standards
and the Act. The notes on the Code of Ethics state that:
Agencies may develop their own specific applications of the Code
for particular workplaces. Agency guidelines must be consistent
with the legislative requirements of the Act and the Standards.
Public Sector Employment and Management Act 1993
establishes employment and management principles for the Northern
Territory public sector including principles of conduct. The Office
of the Commissioner for Public Employment has published
Northern Territory: Public Sector Principles and Code of
Conduct. This publication lists the principles of conduct
and the foreword states that:
The Principles and Code of Conduct are part of the terms and
conditions of the employment relationship. As such they are binding
on all employees and must be observed by all, including Chief
Executive Officers and the Commissioner for Public Employment.
As part of the Public Sector Employment and Management
Employment Instructions the Commissioner has issued
Employment Instruction Number 13: Code of Conduct.
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Selected overseas public service and ministerial staff
Service Code came into force on 1 January 1996, and forms
part of the terms and conditions of employment of every civil
servant. It sets out the constitutional framework within which all
civil servants work and the values they are expected to uphold. It
is the key statement of the rights and responsibilities of civil
servants. The Code is modelled on a draft originally put forward by
the House of Commons Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee.
It was revised on 13 May 1999 to take account of devolution to
Scotland and Wales.
Under the terms of the Code, civil servants are required to
conduct themselves with integrity, honesty, impartiality and
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In 2001 the UK drew up a Code
of Conduct for Special Advisers which the Constitution
Unit, University College London, has described as
Appropriate elements of the existing Civil Service Code
setting out the duty of special advisers to uphold the political
impartiality of the civil service. It also includes a section on
the direct media contacts of special advisers, making it clear the
nature of the role they play in relation to the work of the civil
service information staff. The Code of Conduct only applies to paid
The Constitution Unit has also stated that:
The UK s Code of Conduct for Special Advisers is a detailed
document setting out the job specification, status, political
responsibilities and relations with government of special advisers.
As such it intends to provide as comprehensive a set of guidelines
as possible without recourse to legislation. In this respect the UK
is far in advance of other countries none of which have as
extensive a code or set of guidelines. In order to tighten up
adherence to the code the UK should, indeed, have it included as
part of a revised Civil Service Act. Other than that, it
could follow the Irish example and draft a specific Ethics in
Public Office Act with parliamentary oversight and sections
covering the specific conduct of special advisers.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life published its ninth
Defining the boundaries within the Executive: Ministers, Special
Advisers and the permanent Civil Service in April 2003.
(See also the
summary of the ninth report.) The report concluded that there
is a need to put the Civil Service on a statutory footing and that
there should be reinforcement of independent scrutiny of the
maintenance of the core values by giving the Civil Service
Commissioners power to investigate on their own initiative .
On the subject of special advisers the report recommended the
use of statute to set out what a special adviser can do , that it
be made clear in the Ministerial Code that all Ministers are
personally accountable for the management and discipline of their
special advisers and that Parliament set an upper limit on the
total number of special advisers which may be appointed .
Government s response to the ninth report in September 2003
noted in reference to the recommended Civil Service Bill:
The Government accepts the case in principle for legislation but
any legislation has to compete for its place alongside many other
priorities. The Government also believes that much more can be done
to implement most of the Committee s concerns without or in advance
of legislation. Once the Public Administration Select Committee s
proposals for legislation for the Civil Service have been
published, the Government will itself publish a draft Bill, as a
basis for further consultation.
The Committee recommended that the section of the Code of
Conduct for Special Advisers specifically relating to civil
servants should be inserted into the Civil Service Code as soon as
possible. The Government agreed to amend the Civil Service
Code and the Civil
Service Management Code to this effect.
On 5 January 2004 the House of Commons
Public Administration Select Committee published a report
A Draft Civil Service Bill: completing the reform which
draft Civil Service Bill. The report noted that Stafford
Northcote and C. E. Trevelyan had first recommended in their 1854
report(4) which laid the foundations for a professional
and politically neutral civil service that a short Bill be prepared
to enshrine key principles and structures to safeguard them in
The Committee report (paragraph 7) stated that the draft
Provides a clear framework which would enable Parliament to
ensure that public service principles are upheld and that civil
servants and others are carrying out their jobs with propriety. It
is firmly based on existing codes and institutions, while giving
Parliament greater powers of oversight and strengthening
accountability. The Bill is not intended to shield civil servants
from change or make them a protected species. In fact, it would
make their duties and obligations clearer than ever. Neither would
it affect the right of ministers to run their departments, make
policy and deliver programmes. What it would do, for the first
time, is to anchor some of the key operating principles of our
system of government in Parliament.
The draft Bill also contained provision to clarify the status
and role of special advisers.
The Government gave a commitment to publish a draft Civil
Service Bill in the current parliamentary session (2003 04) and to
take into account the draft Bill prepared by the Public
In January 2003 the Standards in Public Office Commission issued
the second edition of Guidelines on Compliance
with the Provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Acts, 1995 And
2001 which assists public servants to comply with the
provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Acts. Paragraph 11
The guidelines provide information on the steps that public
servants who are covered by the Ethics Acts need to take in order
to comply with the requirements of the legislation. In addition to
the guidelines, public servants may seek advice from the Standards
Commission in relation to any provision of the legislation or the
application of any such provision in any particular case. This
includes the codes of conduct for public servants which will be
drawn up by the Minister for Finance.
The guidelines include information on the procedure for the
declaration of interests by certain civil servants and special
The draft Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour sets out
the principles and standards which govern the behaviour of staff in
the Civil Service. It was approved by the Government in 2000 and
laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas (Parliament) on 29
November 2000. It was referred to the joint committee on Finance
and the Public Service in December 2000. The draft was approved
finally by the Committee on 25 June 2003. Both Houses of the
Oireachtas approved the draft code on 2 July 2003.
The code is still not available on the Department of
Finance website. This department is responsible for advising
and supporting the Minister for Finance and the Government on the
overall management and development of the public sector .
Other legislation relevant to the conduct of civil servants
At present there is no code of conduct covering special advisers
but it is anticipated that when the Civil Service Code of Standards
and Behaviour is finalised it will be issued to special advisers.
Special advisers are required to comply with the requirements set
out in the Ethics in Public Office Act. Section 5 of the Guidelines
issued by the Standards Commission applies to special advisers who
To submit each year to the Public Offices Commission a statement
of registrable interests
To submit, on leaving the post, a copy of the contract listing
the terms and conditions under which one acted as special
Special advisers are also included in the Department of Finance
circulars covering standards of behaviour.
Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service
sets out the values and ethics of public service to guide and
support public servants in all their professional activities. The
Code sets out public service values as well as conflict of interest
and post-employment measures. The Code has been in operation since
1 September 2003.
The Code forms part of the conditions of employment in the
Public Service of Canada. At the time of signing their letter of
offer, public servants acknowledge that this code is a condition of
The Treasury Board Secretariat acts as the coordinating point
for ethics policy and expertise and is responsible for promoting
public service management based on values and ethics. The
Secretariat s Office of Public
Service Values and Ethics publishes information relating to
Sector Integrity Officer deals with breaches of the Values and
Public servants must also evaluate on a regular basis whether
their assets and liabilities need to be included in a confidential
report. If there is any real, apparent or potential conflict
between the carrying out of their official duties and their assets
and liabilities, a confidential report must be filed. If there is
no relationship, no report is required.
Ministerial staff are subject to the
Conflict of Interest and Post-employment Code for Public Office
Holders (2003), administered by the Ethics Commissioner.
Although ministerial staff are a special category of exempt public
servants (that is personnel exempt from the normal appointment
procedures under section 39 of the Public Service Employment Act),
they are subject to the provisions of the Code.
Since March 2004 the
Office of the Ethics Commissioner has been a statutory position
with the Commissioner required to report to Parliament and issue an
annual report. The statutory mandate of the Ethics Commissioner in
relation to public office holders is:
To administer any ethical principles, rules or obligations
established by the Prime Minister for public office holders
To provide confidential advice to the Prime Minister with
respect to those ethical principles, rules or obligations and
ethical issues in general
To provide confidential advice to a public office holder with
respect to the application to him or her of those ethical
principles, rules or obligations.
The Treasury Board Secretariat has published
Guidelines for Ministers Offices. Section 1.1 of the
Guidelines states that:
All persons on the political staff of a Minister or Minister of
State, whether they be exempt, or constituency or House of Commons,
full time or part-time, on salary or on contract, are subject to
the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office
The Ethics Commissioner, under the general direction of the
Clerk of the Privy Council, administers the Code and applies
The core values of the Public Service are described in the
New Zealand Public Service Code of Conduct, which is
issued by the State
Services Commissioner under section 57 of the
State Sector Act 1988. The Code describes the standards of
conduct required of public servants in line with the core values.
The Code has two particular purposes:
The State Services Commissioner has responsibility for maintaining
the standards of integrity and conduct that apply to the Public
To provide guidance to public servants on the standards of
behaviour required of them
To provide a basis for more detailed codes that are required to
meet the particular circumstances of individual departments.
There is no code of conduct for ministerial staff.
Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive
Branch is based on
Executive Order 12674, as amended by
Executive Order 12731, and a number of
ethics-related statutes. The standards set out rules to be
followed by executive branch employees in seven areas: gifts from
outside sources; gifts between employees; conflicting financial
interests; impartiality in performing official duties; seeking
other employment; misuse of position; and outside activities.
The Office of
Government Ethics (OGE) was established by the Ethics in
Government Act 1978. The OGE website describes its role as
leadership in the executive branch to prevent conflicts of
interest on the part of Government employees, and to resolve those
conflicts of interest that do occur. In partnership with executive
branch agencies and departments, OGE fosters high ethical standards
for employees and strengthens the public s confidence that the
Government s business is conducted with impartiality and
Congressional staff and staff employed by members of
The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive
Branch (section 2635.104, paragraph (b)) deals with Applicability
to employees on detail . This paragraph states:
Details to the legislative or judicial branch. An
employee on detail, including a uniformed officer on assignment,
from his employing agency to the legislative or judicial branch for
a period in excess of 30 calendar days shall be subject to the
ethical standards of the branch or entity to which detailed. For
the duration of any such detail or assignment, the employee shall
not be subject to the provisions of this part, except this section,
or, except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, to any
supplemental agency regulations of his employing agency, but shall
remain subject to the conflict of interest prohibitions in title 18
of the United States Code.
This indicates that officials and employees of the Senate and
the House of Representatives are subject to either the Senate Code
of Official Conduct (Rules 34 to 43 of the Standing Rules of
the Senate) and the provisions of the Senate
Ethics Manual or the Code of Official
Conduct (Rule XX111)in the House of Representative
- Helen Williams, Perceptions and performance: the Australian
public service experience , International Review of
Administrative Sciences 67(1), March 2001, p. 49
- Simon King, Regulating the Behaviour of Ministers, Special
Advisers and Civil Servants, The Constitution Unit, School of
Public Policy, University College London, 2003, p. 11.
- ibid., p.18.
- Stafford Northcote and C E Trevelyan, The Organisation of the
Permanent Civil Service , Parliamentary Papers, Vol.
XXVII, 1854, p1.
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