Chapter 4: Conduct, Ethics and Fraud Training

This chapter sets out the training provided and supported by the Conduct and Ethics Unit. It offers guidance on provision of conduct, ethics and fraud training at posts and state/territory offices. It also contains two conduct and ethics training tools - the discussion paper "What Do We Mean by Ethics?" and the ReFLECT Model of Decision-Making.

Staff should contact the Conduct and Ethics Unit ( if they require clarification on the contents of this Manual or if they are uncertain about the ethical implications of a proposed course of action.

4.1 Conduct, Ethics and Fraud Training in Canberra

What do I need to do?

APS Employees


HOMs/DHOMs/SAOs/Heads of STOs in pre-posting

4.1.1 The Conduct and Ethics Unit (CEU) provides conduct, ethics and fraud training to APS employees and contractors in Canberra. The Accountable and Ethical Decision Making E- Learning Module is mandatory for all APS employees at induction, before a long-term posting overseas and in any case at least once every three years. APS employees can enrol in the course via PeopleSoft ESS. Contractors with PeopleSoft access and who are issued with a security pass to the R G Casey building should complete the Accountable and Ethical Decision Making E- Learning Module as soon as possible following their initial engagement with the department and at least once every three years. The contract manager should arrange this training. Further information about the CEU courses available and how to enrol can be obtained from CEU or Training Development and Performance Management Section (TDP).

4.1.2 CEU also provides one-on-one pre-posting conduct, ethics and fraud briefings for outgoing HOMs/HOPs, DHOMs/DHOPs, SAOs and heads of state/territory offices. These briefings are mandatory as part of pre-posting briefings and can be arranged by contacting CEU.

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4.2 Conduct, Ethics and Fraud Training at Posts and State/Territory Offices

What do I need to do?

HOMs/HOPs/SAOs/Heads of STOs

4.2.1 CEU provides conduct, ethics and fraud training at posts and state/territory offices as opportunities allow. Posts and state/territory offices should nevertheless ensure that all staff with PeopleSoft access have completed the Accountable and Ethical Decision Making E- Learning Module. A specific module for LES staff is available. All employees at posts and state/territory offices should have conduct, ethics and fraud training at least once every three years. A conduct, ethics and fraud training component should be included in the induction training for all new employees at posts and state/territory offices. CEU can provide department-tailored conduct, ethics and fraud training tools to posts and state/territory offices.

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4.3 Conduct and Ethics Training Tools

4.3.1 In addition to the policies and case studies contained in this Manual, "What Do We Mean By Ethics?" (a discussion paper prepared by CEU) and the ReFLECT Model for Decision-Making (a system developed by the Australian Public Service Commission) are tools which work units can use to guide discussion on conduct and ethics issues.

What do we mean by ethics? A discussion paper

Personal Ethics

Most people are familiar with the everyday, non-philosophical meaning of the term "ethics". This usually means personal ethics: the private set of rules and standards that we each hold to, which help us decide what we should or should not do in different situations. Personal ethical values are usually derived consciously or unconsciously from those of our parents and from the culture in which we were raised. We may take our own personal ethical values for granted and may not have thought about them in detail.

Can you think of examples of personal ethical values or principles? By values, we usually mean ideals that we aspire to which we can express in a word or two, e.g. honesty. Principles are short statements that describe the rules we will live by, e.g. the ten commandments.

Our personal ethical values and principles and the strength with which they are held become most obvious to us when they come into conflict with some other law, rule or principle. Can you think of an example of something which may be legal or socially acceptable, but which you would not do because it conflicts with your personal values?

Ethical principles provide a framework which enables us to examine objectively existing rules and practices. Can you think of an example of a social norm, political position or perhaps even a law that you disagree with because it conflicts with your ethical principles?

Professional Ethics

Professional ethics, on the other hand, refer to a set of values and/or principles by which members of a particular profession or occupation regulate their behaviour. They set the standards for that occupation. They also help to define the workplace culture: "how things are done around here". They can even be said to define membership of a profession: for example, a journalist who breaks his or her professional code by revealing sources could be disowned by the profession and by those sources.

The values and principles within a code of professional ethics often encapsulate the many rules and procedures that a profession has found necessary to develop over the years. When rules are distilled and simplified in this way, they can appear similar to those that form our own private ethics. They may include ideas such as "act with care and diligence", "behave with honesty and integrity", etc. Sometimes, though, professional ethical principles can be more specialised. Can you think of examples of ethical principles that are unique to the Australian Public Service, DFAT or your post?

Ethical Dilemmas

The set of values and principles that make up either your personal or professional ethics help you to decide what you ought to do in the many and varied situations that arise each day. However, ought is not a black and white or purely factual concept though, and whether you do what you ought to do is another matter again.

The process of ethical decision-making is often not straightforward. Sometimes situations arise where conflicting or competing ethical principles are involved. Can you think of a situation where one personal ethical principle conflicts with another? For example, is it best in all situations to tell the truth?

The usual way to resolve an ethical conflict is to decide which ethical principle outweighs the other in a particular situation. You might decide that the consequences of telling the truth in a particular situation would be so negative that they outweigh your scruples about lying. Sometimes there is no one right answer in ethics. However, we should strive for a good answer and to be able to justify our decision.

Personal dilemmas can be more difficult to resolve than professional ones. In personal ethics, our dilemmas can be complicated by the need to challenge and perhaps revise our ethical principles. Personal ethics can also be complicated by the fact that we only have our own limited personal experience to help us resolve ethical dilemmas.

However, in professional ethics, the values and principles we must abide by and upon which we base our judgements are fixed and are decided for us by our profession.

For APS employees of the department, they are set out in the APS Values and Employment Principles, the APS Code of Conduct, and the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service. For LES employees, these principles are set out in the LES Code of Conduct in place at their post. (While LES Codes of Conduct vary from post to post, to take account of local custom and employment law, all share the same core principles, which are essentially the same as those that apply to A-based staff.) For contractors engaged by the department, they are set out in the APS Values and Employment Principles, the APS Code of Conduct and the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service, which contractors must observe in accordance with enforceable provisions in their contracts.

Knowledge of our Codes of Conduct provides us with in-built "ethical antennae", alerting us to the danger of unethical behaviour, misconduct or fraud. This knowledge and form the basis for our decisions on how to proceed.

There is also ample policy advice in DFAT to support our codes of professional ethics and to help us resolve common ethical dilemmas.

This advice includes the department’s Conduct and Ethics Manual, DFAT Administrative Circulars, the Financial Management Manual, the Human Resources Manual, as well as direct advice from relevant policy areas to aid our decision-making. There will always be situations that the various policy guidelines and circulars do not cover. There will be times when we must apply our own judgment and our knowledge of the APS Values and Employment Principles and relevant Codes of Conduct to a particular situation and decide for ourselves what the best course of action is. When faced with conflicting ethical principles in a situation that is not covered by existing policy, the answer is often to refer to an overriding principle, such as “preserving the consistency and integrity of existing policy” or “protecting the good reputation of the department”.

For example, the natural approach taken by staff in conduct, conditions of service or staffing policy areas is to "universalise" an option, and to ask themselves: "what if this decision were applied to everyone? Would it set a precedent that we would not want to repeat? Does the decision undermine an existing policy position that we want to maintain?" This might be called the "Administrative Circular test": how would our proposed decision look as the basis of an Administrative Circular providing guidance to future conduct for all staff?

Another way to choose the right option is to ask yourself the "newspaper question". How might this decision be interpreted and portrayed by a critical outside observer, such as journalist? Even if nothing dishonest is intended, what effect might an unfavourable perception of this decision have on the good reputation of the department?

Both approaches involve the need to stand back from our choices and see them as part of a bigger picture.

The ReFLECT Model of Decision-Making

1. REcognise a potential issue or problem

Ask yourself:

do I have a gut feeling something is not right? Do I feel this is a risky situation?

Recognise the situation as one that may involve tensions:

between two or more parts of the relevant Code of Conduct; between the relevant Code of Conduct and personal values.

2. Find relevant information

Find the relevant information and gather the facts:

what was the trigger and what are the circumstances? Identify the relevant legislation, policies and guidance; identify the rights and responsibilities of relevant stakeholders; identify any precedents or previous decisions.

3. Linger at the "Fork in the Road"

Linger at the "Fork in the Road"; pause to consult:

supervisors and managers; the Conduct and Ethics Unit; respected colleagues or peers; or support services—remember privacy.

Talk it through; use intuition and analysis; listen and reflect.

4. Evaluate the options

Evaluate options; identify consequences; look at the processes:

identify the risks; discard unrealistic options; apply the accountability testówould the decision stand up to public scrutiny/independent review? be prepared to explain the reasons for your decision.

5. Come to a decision

Come to a decision

act on it and make a record if necessary.

6. Take time to reflect

Take time to reflect and review

how did it turn out for all concerned? learn from your decision; if you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?