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Personal responsibility, acting ethically and in good faith

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Summary of obligations

You are personally responsible and accountable for, and must be prepared to publicly justify, your use of public resources (see s25(2)-(3) of the 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 judgment when deciding what public resources you need to conduct your parliamentary business. 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 regarding the use of public resources. 

Personally responsible and accountable

You are personally responsible for ensuring that a public resource which you claim under the framework:

  • is for the dominant purpose of your parliamentary business
  • achieves value for money
  • meets all claim conditions
  • is publicly justifiable
  • is used ethically and in good faith. 

If you direct, or authorise, your staff member to make arrangements on your behalf concerning your work expenses – for example, ordering office expenses – you remain personally responsible and accountable for the expenditure. You must therefore be satisfied that your instructions take into account your obligations to only claim expenses for the dominant purpose of your parliamentary business, ensure value for money and meet all conditions for claiming .

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, and that you act ethically 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 and is completely unjustifiable Unlawful

Preparedness to publicly justify

Failure to comply with your section 25 obligations does not remove the Commonwealth’s liability to provide you the 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.

In the event that a provision of the framework is open to more than oneinterpretation, you should act in a way that is consistent with and gives best effect to these obligations as they underline the object and purpose of the framework.

 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.  

Act ethically and in good faith

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 reasons for claiming or using public resources.

Considerations

1. Consider the examples outlined under the Dominant Purpose Test and Value for Money pages: 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?

2. 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?

3. 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?

Last updated: 10 December 2019