You are personally responsible and accountable for, and must be prepared to publicly justify, your use of public resources (s25(2)-(3) Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017 (PBR Act)).
You must act ethically and in good faith in using and accounting for your use of public resources (s25(4) PBR Act).
The PBR Act establishes a framework that is subject to overarching obligations and requires you to exercise a degree of discretion when deciding what your parliamentary business is, and what public resources you need to conduct it. Therefore, not only do you have to comply with the legal conditions applicable to the use of public resources (recognised in sections 28 and 29 of the PBR Act), but section 25 of the PBR Act imposes a set of ethical obligations on you when you use public resources for conducting your parliamentary business.
While no express consequences flow from a failure to meet the obligations imposed by section 25, you may expect that acting inconsistently with these obligations will not meet community expectations around the use of public resources.
You are personally responsible for deciding whether your intended use of a public resource:
- is for the dominant purpose of your parliamentary business
- achieves value for money
- meets the conditions for use
- is publicly justifiable
- is ethical and in good faith.
If you direct, or authorise, your staff member to make arrangements on your behalf concerning your work expenses – for example, order items under your office budget – you remain personally responsible and accountable for the expenditure. You must therefore be satisfied that your instructions take into account your dominant purpose, value for money and conditions for claiming obligations.
While Ministerial and Parliamentary Services and IPEA can provide advice and assistance it remains your responsibility to ensure that your use of public resources is not only lawful, but publicly justifiable, ethical and in good faith. You should also bear in mind that IPEA has information-gathering powers to support its functions. More about IPEA and its functions can be found at http://www.ipea.gov.au/.
In deciding whether or not to use public resources or incur expenses, you can adopt a risk assessment approach by asking yourself the following questions:
|Is it within the conditions?||How would it look? Is it justifiable?||What is the overall risk assessment?|
|Clearly yes||Fully defensible||Low risk|
|Technically yes||Some difficulty in defending publicly||Medium risk|
|Arguably yes||May/would attract criticism||High risk|
|Clearly no||Would certainly attract criticism||Unsafe/unlawful|
The section 25 obligations are not a basis for the Commonwealth not to be liable to pay you the work expenses, allowances or public resources you claim. However, your public resources and how you use them attract close media attention and, from time to time, criticism that they are overly generous and open to abuse. Such use is frequently the subject of applications under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 received by the Department of Finance.
Therefore, because there is some room for interpretation of the framework under which your public resources are provided, you should act in a way that gives best effect to these obligations as they underline the overall spirit and purpose of the framework.
Further, the fact that there is some room for interpretation means that it is important to take extra care to avoid creating grounds for criticism which, even if ill-founded, can damage your reputation. Being prepared to publicly justify your use of public resources means that you should bear community expectations in mind, because your use will be measured against these.
Acting ethically and in good faith requires you to make sincere efforts to carefully use and account for your use of public resources. You should also consider any actual, potential and perceived conflicts of interest.
Specifically, you must not seek to disguise your personal or commercial business as parliamentary business, but must act honestly and consider your subjective reasons for claiming or using public resources.
- Consider the examples used under Dominant Purpose and Value for Money: are you making your assessment ethically, in good faith, and bearing in mind what may be publicly justifiable?
Example: Are you arranging your parliamentary business (or characterising an activity as ‘parliamentary business’) to justify actions that are for your personal benefit or commercial purposes? If this is the case, are you satisfied that if you claim payment you can justify this to the public?
- Is there any real or perceived favouritism or conflict of interest if you select a particular provider of goods or services? Is the provider related to you in some way, presenting a risk of a conflict of interest?
Example: Even if the dominant purpose is to conduct your parliamentary business, and the provider represents value for money, is there a conflict of interest?
What if you repeatedly procure the goods or services from the same business? Can another business meet your requirement and provide the same, similar or better value for money taking into account factors such as quality, timeframe and cost?
- Are you prepared to publicly justify your expenditure decision?
Example: Are you able to demonstrate that an expense provides value for money for taxpayers? Did you obtain several quotes or explore different options? Is there evidence of this?