Gifts, benefits and hospitality may be provided when welcoming guests, to facilitate the development of business relationships, further public sector business outcomes and to celebrate achievements. When deciding whether to provide gifts, benefits or hospitality or what type to provide, you must comply with the financial probity and efficient use of work resources guidance outlined in the relevant Code of Conduct.[3] In particular, you should ensure that:

  • it is provided for a business reason;
  • any costs are proportionate to the benefits obtained for the State; and
  • it would not give rise to an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest.

The ‘HOST’ test at Figure 2 is a good reminder of what to think about in making this assessment.

Figure 2. ‘HOST’ test

H Hospitality

To whom is the gift or hospitality being provided?

Will recipients be external business associates, or individuals of the host organisation?

O Objectives

For what purpose will hospitality be provided?

Is the hospitality being provided to further the conduct of official business? Will it promote and support government policy objectives and priorities? Will it contribute to staff wellbeing and workplace satisfaction?

S Spend

Will public funds be spent?

What type of hospitality will be provided? Will it be modest or expensive, and will alcohol be provided as a courtesy or an indulgence? Will the costs incurred be proportionate to the benefits obtained?

T Trust

Will public trust be enhanced or diminished?

Could you publicly explain the rationale for providing the gift or hospitality? Will the event be conducted in a manner which upholds the reputation of the public sector? Have records in relation to the gift or hospitality been kept in accordance with reporting and recording procedures?

6.1 Provided for a business reason

Your decisions regarding the provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality must consider the likely benefits to your organisation and the State. Your organisation should seek to uphold, and where possible enhance, the reputation of the public sector. Gifts, benefits and hospitality may be provided to external guests, such as business associates and international delegations, as well as to employees.

6.1.1 External guests

Your organisation may provide gifts, benefits or hospitality for the purposes of:

  • receiving guests (e.g. a visiting delegation from another jurisdiction);
  • facilitating relationships between third party organisations that are in the interests of the State (e.g. an event where community sector and business organisations can meet to establish partnerships);
  • celebrating the opening of an event, exhibition, or the establishment of a new public body; or
  • launching an initiative (e.g. a new community awareness campaign).

The following questions may be helpful to determine whether the gift, benefit or hospitality is provided for a business reason:

  • Will the provision of the gift, benefit or hospitality foster the conduct of public sector business?
  • Will the provision of the gift, benefit or hospitality help to promote or support the government’s policy objectives?
  • In providing the gift, benefit or hospitality, can you be confident that the reputations of both the public sector and the external guests are upheld?

6.1.2 Employees

Your organisation may provide hospitality to employees for a range of reasons, including catering as part of a large employee-related event, for example a training course.

Catering an event for staff can be an effective means of celebrating achievements or promoting particular behaviours and is consistent with common business practice. In deciding whether your organisation should pay for all, some or none of the costs associated with the event, you should consider:

  • the extent to which the event will contribute to organisational objectives by, for example, reinforcing particular values or motivating staff;
  • whether there have been multiple recent events that would result in perceptions of excess; or
  • the need to balance the positive benefits of public recognition with community expectations in relation to modest expenditure by public officials.

Celebrations of events such as birthdays, marriages or the birth of a child should not be funded by your organisation. While an organisation may provide gifts to employees, for example as part of an organisational reward and recognition program, this should only occur in exceptional circumstances and any gifts should be token. The provision of this type of employee incentives should comply with the financial probity guidelines outlined in the Code of Coduct.

6.2 Costs proportionate to the benefits

When deciding on the type of gift, benefit or hospitality to provide, a judgment should be made between the costs incurred and the potential benefits to the State. You should contain costs involved in the provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality wherever possible and ensure the proposed gift, benefit or hospitality is in line with community expectations. The following questions may be useful in this regard:

  • Will the cost of providing the gift, benefit or hospitality be proportionate to the potential benefits?
  • Is an external venue necessary or does the organisation have facilities to host the event?
  • Is the proposed catering or hospitality proportionate to the number of attendees?
  • Does the size of the event and number of attendees align with intended outcomes?
  • Is the gift symbolic, rather than financial, in value?
  • Could providing the gift, benefit or hospitality be viewed by the public as excessive?

Your policy covering the provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality should reference the organisation’s procurement policy and assist you to adhere to any internal approval procedures and financial delegations.

6.2.1 Catering events and meetings

If an event or meeting extends over meal times, it is generally considered a basic courtesy to provide token hospitality such as tea, coffee or a light meal. This type of hospitality usually has a low cost per head and should be consistent with community expectations. The employer should also ensure compliance with any obligations under the relevant industrial instrument in relation to meal breaks and any other employee entitlements, including occupational health and safety obligations.

Wherever possible, a sufficient break in proceedings should be encouraged to enable participants to seek their own refreshments. Where possible meetings should not be scheduled to conflict with meal times.

6.2.2 Providing alcohol

The supply of alcohol at any event can lead to increased risks, including the risk of anti-social behaviour and reputational damage. Your organisation’s gifts, benefits and hospitality policy should include advice on whether it permits the provision of alcohol, and if so, consideration of its obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 and the relevant Code of Conduct.

Decisions relating to the provision of alcohol should be made on a case-by-case basis. The following parameters may be useful in making these decisions and can be adapted to suit your organisation’s operating environment:

  • provision of alcohol would be relatively uncommon and be associated with a meal;
  • any event where alcohol is served should be held at a time that minimises the risk of employees returning to work impaired by alcohol (e.g. if standard office hours are worked, the event should be held in the late afternoon or early evening);
  • events with alcohol service should not exceed two hours in duration;
  • no more than two standard drinks per person should be provided; and
  • the provision of alcohol should be incidental to the overall level of hospitality provided.

If your organisation allows the provision of alcohol, it should remind employees of their obligations under the relevant Code of Conduct and that employees must not be impaired by alcohol while in the workplace or while representing your organisation.

[3]. The Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees or the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees of Special Bodies.