Conflict of Interest

While many of the findings of corrupt conduct that the ICAC makes involve conflicts of interest of some kind, this does not mean that all conflicts of interest are corrupt. It is more a matter of how conflicts are dealt with that is important.

Everyone has personal interests and for university staff it is inevitable that sometimes these interests may conflict with their professional decisions or actions.

A recommended definition is: "A 'conflict of interest' involves a conflict between the public duty and private interests of a public official, in which the public official has private interests which could improperly influence the performance of their official duties and responsibilities." (OEDC 2003, Guidelines for Managing Conflicts of Interest in the Public Service, OECD, Paris, paragraph 10)

Public Duty

Public officials must always put the public interest above their own personal or private interests when carrying out their official duties. The public duty of university staff is to act in the public interest by performing their proper role according to accepted university and professional ethical frameworks.

Refer to the University's Code of Conduct

Private Interest

This means anything that could affect the impartial decision-making of a public official and includes not only that individual's personal, professional or business interests but also those of individuals or groups with which he/she associates.

A conflict of interest can arise from avoiding personal losses as well as gaining personal advantage - whether financial or otherwise.

  • A pecuniary interest is where a public official is in a position to potentially gain financially from his/her public position eg. an academic engaged in a research project is a major shareholder in the company sponsoring the research.
  • Non-pecuniary interests are those which do not have a financial component eg. selection of a student for admission.

Generally speaking, there are three types of conflicts of interest:

  • actual - involves a direct conflict between a public official's current duties and responsibilities and his/her existing private interests eg. your spouse is an applicant for a job for which you are on the interview panel;
  • perceived - where it could be perceived by others that a public official's private interests could improperly influence the performance of his/her public duties - whether or not this is in fact the case eg. your spouse is an applicant for a job within your work unit although you have no part in the selection process; and
  • potential - when a public official has private interests that could interfere with his/her official duties in the future eg. a relative has just enrolled as a student in the Faculty in which you teach.

Not only must decisions be made without bias, they must also be seen to be made without bias.

Identifying a Conflict

Identifying conflicts of interest is an important step in managing them appropriately. The key test is whether an individual could be influenced, or appear to be influenced, by a private interest in carrying out his/her public duty.

This objective test should be based on an impartial examination of the official role and private relationship and interests of the person concerned, and whether these create an opportunity for corrupt conduct or have the capacity to influence the official's role.

Managing Conflicts of Interest

Properly managed conflicts of interest ensure that decisions are both made and seen to be made on proper grounds, for legitimate reasons and without bias. This reduces opportunities for corruption and improper conduct and, by implementing effective policies and procedures for identifying, disclosing and managing conflicts, the university can deal with unfounded accusations of bias more easily and efficiently.

An added benefit is that the university can demonstrate its commitment to good governance by addressing an issue that is commonly associated with corruption and misconduct.

Strategies for managing conflicts of interest range from registering the conflict to restricting involvement, recruiting a disinterested third party or removing the person completely from the situation.

Senior staff need to demonstrate leadership and commitment to the organisation's University's Code of Conduct by modelling compliance and appropriate behaviour.

Managers should encourage their staff to disclose conflicts of interest and be prepared to exercise judgment to help staff resolve or manage a conflict of interest.