Written by: Donna Kirk – Pro Leaders Academy Pty Ltd


An ethical Australia with ethical behaviour is what we believe to be our current state in general. However on Monday 26 October Q&A aired a program with a challenging discussion on ethics, ethical behaviour, accountability & leadership.

As a leading trainers in the areas of projects, procurement and contracting in the public sector we focus very much on ethical behavior and probity as the evidence of ethical behaviour, we wanted to share some thoughts and invite yours furthering this conversation because while the focus may be on politicians and the media, it is we as frontline decision makers who can influence and make change happen.

A question we are asked in the classroom is “How do we judge ethical behaviour being that we all come from different backgrounds, experiences and expectations?


Our response to this is simple: Would your actions or decision pass the pub test? 

To support the decision making process is a clear framework within the APS that documents what is considered ethical behaviour. These are set out in the APS Values as well as the Code of Conduct which individuals who work for the public service must adhere to.

  • Values document information on Impartiality, Commitment to Service, Accountability, Respect and Ethics.
  • The Code of Conduct is very specific as is Conflicts of Interest. Brett Lyndon, senior facilitator with Pro Leaders Academy highlighted this area in more detail here

Knowing the point of reference where to access this information can help guide you in decision making. If you have the slightest question visit the APSC website to review the requirements and ask yourself- “Would the decision I am making as it stands pass the pub test based on the APS values?”

  • If the answer is “Yes” great move forward.
  • If it “Maybe” re-evaluate the decision
  • If it is a definitive “No” then involve someone else in the decision-making process.

We don’t always get it right because we are all fallible however we have an obligation to behave ethically.

Which brings us to the next question we are asked – If its legal is it still ethical & is there a difference?

To simplify, The differences between them are these:

Legal standards are based on written law, while ethical standards are based on human rights and wrongs. Something can be legal but not ethicalLegal standards are written by government officials, while ethical standards are written by societal norms.

As a decision maker, your safest recourse is always to question and document, question and document and remember….

British writer Anthony Trollope’s once wrote:

“…when you are defending yourself, if the best you can do is say what I did was not illegal, you have so missed the point of what is expected of someone in your position”

It is not about being caught out, instead by ensuring we are doing the right thing in the first place.

In our Next & final edition for 2020 we will look at the Private Sector vs Public Sector Ethics – are they different and if so why?

It is interesting that we are asked this question more from public servants than the private sector. Does the private sector not believe they need to be ethical? Are they different – what do you think?

Share your own thoughts and experiences online 

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NOTE: The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter, and specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. The content must not be relied upon as legal, technical, financial or other professional advice.