Authorised Officer Conflict of interest

​Attachment 1: Conflict of Interest

Background

A number of provisions in the APS Code of Conduct are relevant to understanding conflict of interest:

  • An APS employee must behave honestly and with integrity in the course of APS employment.
  • An APS employee must disclose, and take reasonable steps to avoid, any conflict of interest (real or apparent) in connection with APS employment.
  • An APS employee must not make improper use of: (a) inside information or (b) the employee's duties, status, power or authority, in order to gain, or seek to gain, a benefit or advantage for the employee or for any other person.

Public confidence in the integrity of Australian Government officials is vital to the proper operation of government. Confidence may be jeopardised if the community perceives a conflict of interest. Australian Government officials need to be aware that their private interests, both financial and personal, could conflict with their official duties.

A number of approaches are available for managing real and apparent conflicts of interest:

  • AOs’ responsibility to notify the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (the department) about real or apparent conflicts of interest
  • The department’s responsibilities to decide whether:
    • there is, or could be, a conflict of interest
    • to ask the person to divest the interest
    • to change the person's duties or to transfer the person to another position
    • where there is no conflict, to allow the person to continue their duties.

During an assessment process for a position as an Australian Government official, applicants may be asked to declare any real or apparent conflict of interest.  Before appointment, it may sometimes be necessary to require successful applicants to divest interests that present real or potential conflicts in the performance of their duties.

While avoiding a conflict is best, it is not always practical. Processes may be needed to ensure that any conflicts are managed in such a way that will withstand scrutiny. These processes may outline how:

  • the conflict is declared
  • the conflict will be managed
  • stakeholders are informed about the conflict.

More background on conflict of interest is available at:

  • APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice - Chapter 11: Conflict of interest (www.apsc.gov.au/values/conductguidelines13.htm)
  • In whose interests?  Preventing and managing conflicts of interest in the APS (www.apsc.gov.au/ethics/whoseinterest.pdf)

Managing conflicts of interest for AOs

A crucial element of trading partner acceptance of the AO system is how the department treats conflicts of interest. AO applicants must provide information on conflicts of interest.

While it is not possible to foresee all responses to this requirement, some examples of conflicts of interest and possible ways they could be managed are provided below.  If you are not sure if your situation involves a conflict of interest, please declare it and the department will consider it.

Potential conflicts of interest

How the department may manage them

Employee of company where you will be an AO

You must sign a deed of obligations.
The department will audit and verify your activities to ensure you are carrying out your official functions consistent with your deed of obligations.

Direct or indirect financial interest as owner, director or owner of shares in an establishment or in a similar type of establishment (including employees involved in employee ownership schemes)

You may be able to sell or relinquish your interest in the establishment.
Alternatively, the department could make an assessment of your character based on its past dealings with you, or other evidence such as your National Police Check.  If you are then authorised as an AO, your performance may be subject to more intensive scrutiny under the department audit and verification regime.

Family/emotional relationship to the owners or management of an establishment or in a similar type of establishment.

The department could make an assessment of your character based on its past dealings with you, or other evidence such as your National Police Check.  If you are then authorised as an AO, your performance may be subject to more intensive scrutiny under the department audit and verification regime.

Employed in management or control of the establishment.

The department could make an assessment of your character based on its past dealings with you, or other evidence such as your National Police Check.  If you are then authorised as an AO, your performance may be subject to more intensive scrutiny under the department audit and verification regime.

Employment with another establishment of the same type as the establishment where the applicant would like to carry out AO duties.

Working in a number of different establishments of the same type may be considered a conflict of interest.  For example, if the AO’s principal employer is a business competitor of the establishment where the AO is carrying out an assessment, there may be a perception that the AO would not be impartial.

A possible approach to managing this risk is to request the AO applicant to inform the department and the management of all establishments of where they intend to work so that an assessment of potential conflicts can be made.  If necessary, the department can carry out more intensive audit and verification of the AO.

It is worth noting that in this situation the AO is also bound by the ethical and privacy obligations embodied in the APS Code of Conduct and the Privacy Act 1988 and any associated penalty regimes.

Volunteer work, political or religious views or opinions

In some cases, applicants may perceive that unpaid work, or political views may result in conflicts of interest with their role as AOs. For example, an applicant may be an active member of a community group opposed to genetically modified organisms or the use of particular agricultural chemicals.  The department could manage this conflict by only authorising the AO to assess particular types of products or to work in particular locations.

Failure to disclose any perceived or actual conflicts of interest prior to and during your appointment as an AO can constitute a breach of your Deed of Obligations and the Export Control Act 1982 (Cth), which may result in revocation of your appointment as an AO and civil and/or criminal proceedings against you or your employer.