Because of the broad duties imposed on public sector officials, a variety of personal interests may come into conflict, or appear to come into conflict, with the performance of official duties.
The appearance of a conflict of interest may be as serious as an actual conflict because it may reduce public confidence in the integrity of the public sector. Consequently, actions that would raise the appearance of a conflict of interest in the mind of a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts should be avoided.
In the public sector such personal interests can arise in the following circumstances:
- A person has an interest in property of any kind, including money, the value of which may be altered by a decision the person may be involved in making. This is the kind of interest which is usually disclosed by the registration of personal interests. Such interests can give rise to an actual, apparent or potential conflict of interest.
- A person has an interest in any kind of property, including money, the value of which may be altered by the use of confidential information obtained in the discharge of official duties. For example, selling shares in a company because of confidential information that a pending Government decision will reduce the value of those shares.
- A person seeks and/or accepts gifts and/or hospitality which may influence or appear to influence decision-making. The Financial Management Practice manual section 11.5 contains a general standard for reporting gifts and hospitality received by public officials where the value is in excess of $150. Further information is available at http://www.treasury.qld.gov.au/knowledge/docs/fmpm/financial-management-practice-manual.pdf. However, it is possible that hospitality of a lesser value than $150 can be received in a way that compromises the decision maker’s impartiality.
- A person has or seeks employment either in or outside the public sector that could compromise decision making, for example, if a public official makes a decision favourable to a non-public sector person or entity in the hope of obtaining employment, or if an official attempts to set up a business that could deal with the entity in which the official is employed. Such conduct may involve a criminal offence under section 89 of the Criminal Code.
- A person’s relationship or friendship influences or appears to influence decision making: as a general rule, when a decision is to be made involving a relative or friend, the decision-maker should not make that decision alone. If the decision is being made by a panel, the nature of the relationship or friendship should be disclosed to the other panel members so that the decision is based on merit.
- A person has a strongly held personal conviction: for example, an official with a strongly held opinion about euthanasia may be unable to give sound and impartial advice to the Government about the issue.
- A person’s private activities benefit from the use of government property: for example, when access to the internet is used for personal e-commerce.