This document is part of the Gifts, benefits and hospitality resource suite resource.

As a public official, you may be offered gifts, benefits and hospitality during the course of your duties. These will often be in the form of token offers, such as tea or coffee, which are generally considered a basic courtesy and do not require declaration. However, there may be offers that if accepted:

  • would not align with community expectations;
  • may be an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest; or
  • may be perceived as an inducement or bribe for favourable treatment or decisions.

This chapter provides guidance to help declare and manage these risks.

5.1 Conflict of interest and reputational risks

Conflict of interest considerations are essential in determining how to respond to an offer of a gift, benefit or hospitality. You need to ensure that your personal interests do not influence and could not reasonably be perceived to influence you in your role. It is also important to consider whether an offer could affect your standing as a public official; or bring you, your organisation or the public sector into disrepute. The more valuable the offer, the more likely that a conflict of interest or reputational risk exists.

The relationship between you and the person or organisation making the offer is crucial to determining whether a conflict of interest exists. You should decline offers from those about whom you are likely to make or influence business decisions if a conflict of interest potentially exists (even if there is a legitimate business benefit to accepting the offer). The following examples describe situations where a public official should consider carefully whether accepting an offer would create a conflict of interest:

  • members of an Accredited Purchasing Unit or those involved in purchasing goods and services who receive offers from business associates, including current or potential suppliers, particularly when a tender has been advertised;
  • inspectors who receive offers from people seeking licenses;
  • those who award grants who receive offers from applicants; and
  • policy makers who receive offers from lobbyists.

In each of these cases the public official has the power to make a decision in favour of the person making the offer. They could be influenced by the offer, or create a perception that the offer is an inducement for a favourable decision.

Similarly, the relationship with those to whom your organisation provides gifts, benefits and hospitality must be considered to ensure it does not give rise to an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest.

Scenario 1. Lunching with potential suppliers

Judy is responsible for awarding a training contract to improve the computer literacy skills of her staff. She meets with most potential providers in her office. However one provider asks if she would like to meet at their training centre in a beautiful tourist location to talk about the project over a light lunch.

What should Judy do?

The offered hospitality is likely of minimal monetary value. However it would not be appropriate for Judy to accept this offer, as it could be seen as an inducement that could influence her decision to award the contract. Judy should politely decline the offer and arrange to meet the potential provider in her office.

5.1.1 Refusing prohibited gifts, benefits and hospitality

Your organisation’s policy should set out its position regarding acceptable offers. At a minimum, you must decline offers that:

  • are money, items used in a similar way to money, or items easily converted to money (this type of offer has a high risk of influencing you or being perceived as an inducement for favourable treatment);
  • if accepted may give rise to an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest;
  • would bring yourself, your public sector employer or the public sector into disrepute; or
  • be perceived as an inducement

The ‘GIFT’ test at Figure 1 is a good reminder of what to think about when making this assessment.

Figure 1. ‘GIFT’ test

G Giver

Who is making the offer and what is their relationship to me?

Does my role require me to select suppliers, award grants, regulate industries or determine government policies? Could the person or organisation benefit from a decision I make?

I Influence

Are they seeking to gain an advantage or influence my decisions or actions?

Has the gift, benefit or hospitality been offered to me publicly or privately? Is it a courtesy or a token of appreciation or a valuable non-token offer? Does its timing coincide with a decision I am about to make?

F Favour

Are they seeking a favour in return for the gift, benefit or hospitality?

Has the gift, benefit or hospitality been offered honestly? Has the person or organisation made several offers over the last 12 months?

Would accepting it create an obligation to return a favour?

T Trust

Would accepting the gift, benefit or hospitality diminish public trust?

How would the public view acceptance of this gift, benefit or hospitality? What would my colleagues, family, friends or associates think?

5.2 Token offers

Token offers are of inconsequential or trivial value to both you and the person making the offer and may generally be accepted, as long as they do not create a conflict of interest or lead to reputational damage. They may include promotional items, such as pens and note pads provided to you at a conference, or modest hospitality that would be considered a basic courtesy, such as light refreshments during a meeting. The minimum accountabilities state that token offers cannot be worth more than $50.[2]

Scenario 2. Conference presentation

Matthew had spent the past week composing and then rehearsing his presentation for the international conference on sustainable development. As Matthew makes his closing remarks, the audience applauds and the MC steps forward to thank him for an engaging presentation, and presents him with a modest box of chocolates.

What should Matthew do?

The MC is presenting Matthew with chocolates to say thanks for his presentation. Matthew’s organisation categorises such gifts as token offers, so Matthew could accept the chocolates and would not need to record them on the gifts, benefits and hospitality register.

In future, when accepting a speaking engagement Matthew should speak to the event organisers about his organisation’s gifts, benefits and hospitality policy to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

5.3 Non-token offers

Non-token offers (offers that are more than trivial or inconsequential) can only be accepted if they have a legitimate business benefit. That is, when the offer furthers the conduct of official business or other legitimate goals of your organisation, the public sector or the State. If it does not, you must decline the offer. Examples of non-token offers that must be declined include:

  • tickets to entertainment events that do not relate to your official duties; or
  • non-token hospitality provided while introducing you to a product or service (e.g. your role requires you to impartially assess new products and services, which may be undermined if you accept or are seen to accept such hospitality).

Scenario 3. A day at the tennis

Pam is responsible for her organisation’s marketing and promotions team, including for approving sponsorship funding for local events. While attending an event that her organisation sponsored, Pam was invited by the event organiser to attend the upcoming Australian Open tennis tournament.

What should Pam do?

It was appropriate for Pam to attend the event her organisation sponsored so that she could report back to her employer on the outcome. However, it would not be appropriate for Pam to attend the Australian Open event, as there is no business benefit for her organisation in her attending. It could also raise a perceived conflict of interest, as the person making the offer could be seeking to influence Pam’s future sponsorship decisions. She should decline the invitation and record the non-token offer of Australian Open tickets on her organisation’s gifts, benefits and hospitality register.

 

Some non-token offers may hold a business benefit but still be inappropriate to accept. For example, travel sponsored by private or commercial sources may have a business benefit to the organisation. However, this should generally be declined because there is a high risk that a conflict of interest will arise.

You may be offered a gift or hospitality without an opportunity to seek written approval from your manager prior to accepting. For example, you may be offered a wrapped gift after presenting at a conference that you later identify as being a non-token gift. In such cases, you should seek approval from your manager within five business days.

Where the gift would likely bring you or the organisation into disrepute, the organisation should return the gift. If it represents a conflict of interest for you, the organisation should return the gift or transfer ownership to the organisation to mitigate this risk. The overarching consideration should always be whether accepting an offer would create a conflict of interest or bring the recipient, the organisation or the public sector into disrepute.

5.4 Declaring and recording offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality

You should refer to your organisation’s gifts, benefits and hospitality policy for declaration processes and requirements. At a minimum, you are required to declare and record all non-token offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality (whether accepted or declined) on your organisation’s register, a subset of which will be published on its website and kept up to date.

If you are a board director, you record any non-token offers of gifts, benefits or hospitality on the register of the public entity on which you serve. If you are on multiple boards, you should declare any non-token offers on the register of the board to which the offer relates. This would mean that each public entity has a complete record of the offers, relevant to organisational business, made to its board directors.

Where an offer of hospitality is part of a generic, bulk event invitation that is declined, it does not need to be declared or recorded on a gift, benefit and hospitality register. For example, ‘spam’ email offers.

A declaration of gifts, benefits and hospitality form template is available on the VPSC website.

5.5 Repeat offers, inducements and attempted bribery

You should be alert to repeated offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality from a single source and your organisation must report to its audit committee on the risks associated with such offers. Repeated offers (token and non-token) must be managed appropriately.

The total value of the offers over a year may be quite high, and receiving multiple offers from the same person or organisation can generate a stronger perception that they will influence you. When accepting offers becomes a habit or even an expectation, you are likely to be in breach of the Code of Conduct.

Scenario 4. Coffee connoisseur

Tom regulates the activities of various organisations. He gets along well with some of the owners of the organisations he regulates and often has coffee with them, for which the owner usually pays.

What should Tom do?

Accepting one coffee is unlikely to cause a conflict of interest in how Tom carries out his duties. However receiving regular coffees can quickly amount to considerable monetary value, which may be perceived as influencing how Tom regulates these organisations. Tom should ensure that he pays for his own coffee, and ideally, ensure he spends equitable time with all the organisations he regulates.

You must refuse bribes or inducements and report inducements and bribery attempts to the head of your organisation or their delegate (who should report any criminal or corrupt conduct to Victoria Police or to IBAC). Your organisation’s gift, benefits and hospitality policy should also explicitly encourage employees to report any colleague who tries to solicit a bribe. Employees who observe corrupt conduct in their colleagues may also make a protected disclosure directly to IBAC.

 

5.6 Hospitality from Victorian public sector organisations

As part of their functions, Victorian public sector organisations may provide hospitality to stakeholders, including their own employees and to other Victorian public sector officials. When you are offered such hospitality you should consider the minimum accountabilities. In particular, you should consider whether accepting the offer would create a conflict of interest, or bring yourself, your organisation or the public sector into disrepute.

You do not need to declare or record hospitality accepted from Victorian public sector organisations if:

  • it is offered as part of official business; and
  • your reason for attending is consistent with your organisation’s functions, objectives and your role.

Hospitality provided by private organisations on behalf of a Victorian public sector organisation still requires declaration and registration.


[2]. 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.