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Internet and privacy head PS breaches

By Markus Mannheim, Public Service Reporter

November 26, 2010 9:12 AM

Almost 600 federal bureaucrats breached their professional code of conduct last year.

The latest State of the Service report, issued yesterday, shows misusing the internet and improperly accessing private records remain the most common violations of the Public Service Act.

Government agencies carried out 970 investigations in 2009-10, of which three in five found a breach had taken place.

Public servants must by law adhere to a strict 13-point ethical code, which requires them to behave with honesty and integrity, use public resources properly and treat their colleagues and the public with respect.

Those who violate the code can be sacked if the breach is serious enough.

The report says 77 public servants were dismissed for misconduct in 2009-10, while a further 117 quit before the investigation finished.

However, nine in 10 bureaucrats who were found guilty of misbehaving were either reprimanded, counselled, fined or had their salary lowered.

The most common breaches were misuse of the internet or email (216 staff), improper access to personal information (120), inappropriate behaviour during work hours (85) and harassment or bullying (57).

The Public Service Commission says in the report that while the statistics vary between workplaces, ”the level of reported misconduct in the APS continues to be low, with less than four in every 1000 employees being found to have breached the code”.

It also says its surveys suggest the misconduct ”tended to be in the nature of isolated incidents of poor behaviour and judgment by individual employees rather than being indicative of any underlying systemic issues”.

The report also reveals the first operational details of the bureaucracy’s ethical advisory service, which was set up in May last year.

Throughout 2009-10, the service received 1038 inquiries from public servants who wanted confidential advice on how to deal with dilemmas in their workplace.

The most common inquiries related to reporting and managing misconduct (185 inquiries), harassment and bullying (135), recruitment (126) and conflicts of interest (91).

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