Probity, ethics & integrity
The purpose of this page is primarily to serve as an education starting point for those with limited knowledge of probity in the public sector context, often before proceeding to undertake more formal training courses.
What is often missing in conversations about probity in procurement is the wider connections and frameworks – starting with things as simple as the Victorian Public Sector Code of Conduct. For example Section 7 of the Public Administration Act 2004 establishes values to guide the conduct and performance in the Victorian Public Sector (VPS). Health services and HPV are part of the sector. The Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) has primary responsibility for a range of related activities under that legislation.
The values (and the Code of Conduct based on them) provide the foundation of the integrity and accountability framework for all public sector employees.
Values define what is important to an organisation and their expectations on how things should be done. In the Victorian public sector, they underpin all employee interactions with the government, community, suppliers and other employees. They are designed for the provision of better practices and services to provide confidence to the communities that we all serve, especially in our joint role in advancing safe and affordable health care.
Your health service will also have their own organisational values and associated practices that you need to be familiar with, usually aligned to the seven core Public Sector Values:
Probity can be directly related to all of these. For example, let us look at the value of ‘accountability’ particularly with regards to using finite public funds responsibly. This is also related to the Standing Directions of the Minister for Finance issued under the Financial Management Act 1994 (FMA). They are designed to help the VPS achieve a high standard of public financial management and accountability.
How is that value and the directions being adhered to if you need to discontinue or restart a procurement activity because of a probity issue that could have been easily prevented if due process or better practices had been followed? Think of the additional costs incurred by your staff, consultants or needing a probity auditor or legal advice – probity is also about risk avoidance, cost reduction and good financial management.
In the procurement context, the probity principles can best be described as:
- consistency and transparency of procurement processes
- fairness and impartiality in conduct of procurement processes
- identifying and managing conflicts of interest
- security and confidentiality of documents and information
- ensuring market equality
- allocating appropriate capability
There are three core and independent agencies in the Victorian integrity system (as per the below diagram) that can also provide you with related information.
We all need to ensure we are part of ensuring probity, ethics and integrity and effective governance of our health services.
HPV has the following functions as per section 131 of the Health Services Act 1988 (Vic):
- to monitor compliance by public hospitals with purchasing policies and HPV directions and to report irregularities to the Minister
- to ensure that probity is maintained in purchasing, tendering and contracting activities of public hospitals
Schedule 1 and 5 public hospitals and health services are required to comply with the Health Purchasing Policies (HPP), together with other legislative and reporting obligations as set out in the Act.
HPV and health services can work cooperatively to achieve this in a number of ways through compliance activities, but primarily through the provision of information and educational opportunities.
One of the most common probity risks is the giving and receiving of gifts, benefits & hospitality. We recommend using the resources from the Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) at: https://vpsc.vic.gov.au/ethics-behaviours-culture/gifts-benefits-hospitality/ particularly their GIFT/HOST test which provides an easy to understand one-page guidance for decision-making. Though if ever in any doubt the best approach still remains to "Decline and Declare'.
In October 2016 the VPSC issued the framework, guidelines and resources for all Victorian public sector employees and it also details minimum accountabilities that are binding under Instruction 3.4.11 of the Instructions supporting the Standing Directions of the Minister for Finance 2016. They require all public sector organisations to update their Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality policy and to commence publishing it and their register on their health service website. The VPSC guidelines provide a sample policy and register, including identification of what information may be withheld and what is required to be published. HPV is also required to publish a register of gifts, benefits and hospitality, and an accompanying procedure can be found here.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has also previously requested that health services comply with these requirements and provide them confirmation of the publication of policy and register documents, including a link to the specific web page to email@example.com . Each register should cover the period from the time the public sector organisation reviewed its policies against the VPSC policy framework and the end of the current financial year. From 2017-18, each register published should then cover the current and previous financial year.
It is therefore important to ensure that this ongoing and annual activity is assigned to an appropriate accountable executive and incorporated into your usual enterprise risk management, reporting or other relevant work programs.
One of the most common ethical questions we receive is in relation to health service staff (particularly nurses) accepting gifts from thankful patients and their families - such as a box of chocolates.
These are generally considered to be a modest and token offer, as per the following definition used by the VPSC in their resource suite
Token offer is an offer of a gift, benefit or hospitality that is offered as a courtesy or is of inconsequential or trivial value to both the person making the offer and the individual. Whilst the primary determinant of a token offer is that it would not be reasonably perceived within or outside the organisation as influencing an individual or raising an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest, it cannot be worth more than $50 (including cumulative offers from the same source over a 12 month period). This does not apply to a person employed under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 in a Victorian Government school, who receives an offer from or on behalf of a parent, guardian, carer or student intended to express appreciation of the person’s contribution to the education of a student or students, in which case it cannot be worth more than $100.
But it is also important to comply with your own health services policies and practices, including completing any relevant declarations or registers.
The VPSC also use this table in their resources to help you consider whether to accept a gift:
One good starting point is the Professional and Advisory Services (PAS) State Purchase Contract which can be accessed via the Victorian Government Purchasing Board (VGPB), together with their Guide to Engaging a Probity Practitioner.
The Victorian State Government is committed to ethical, sustainable and socially responsible procurement. To support this commitment, a Supplier Code of Conduct has been implemented.
The Code describes the minimum expectations that suppliers should aspire to meet in the areas of:
- integrity, ethics and conduct
- conflict of interest, gifts, benefits and hospitality
- corporate governance
- labour and human rights
- health and safety
- environmental management
The Code commenced on 1 July 2017 and is applicable to all general government sector contracts, agreements and purchase orders for the supply of goods and services, and construction works and services.
It is also important when health services undertake procurement activities that include the relevant information in procurement documentation, contracts and purchase orders.
More information can be found on the Victorian Government Purchasing Board (VGPB) via this link: Supplier Code of Conduct
Lobbying activities are expected to be performed ethically, transparently, according to the highest standards of professional conduct and in accordance with probity requirements. The Victorian Government Professional Lobbyist Code of Conduct (Code of Conduct) contains requirements designed to support these expectations. This includes registration requirements for Lobbyists and Government Affairs Directors.
If you are approached by a lobbyist, please refer to this website from the Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) for more information: Lobbyists Register
Market-led (or unsolicited) proposals
Market-led proposals (also referred to as 'unsolicited proposals') are ones made by the private sector to government to build infrastructure and/or provide services. It originates within the private sector and involves proponents developing a project or service specification and then approaching Government for approval and support of the proposal.
These proposals are covered under the Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF) Market-led Proposal Guideline and are therefore separate from other standard government procurement practices. The guideline also contains a section on how probity is applied in these circumstances.
Please refer to the DTF website for more information: Market-led Proposals
Victoria’s public health services – especially those in regional areas – may choose to undertake procurement activities as part of a group to achieve economies of scale.
However, health services may risk breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) if their group procurement activity has ‘the purpose or effect of substantially lessening competition in a market.’
Go to our health service education page to access opportunities whether via:
- ECHO (our eLearning System)
- Face to Face (F2F) where available
- Other government educational opportunities (with some being free even) and resources (better practice guidance material, presentations, posters, tools and templates etc)
We also recommend accessing the following:
The following are additional resources to assist in furthering your professional education:
HPV Guide to ensuring probity in procurement practice (coming soon)
HPV Guide to probity risk in procurement practice (coming soon)