Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus speaks to the media.

The Minister for the Public Service Mark Dreyfus speaks to the media. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The nation's public servants were told bluntly on Tuesday that behaving ethically was critical to maintaining confidence in the public sector.

One of the dilemmas they face is how to react when offered lunches, dinners and footy tickets from a contractor.

The Minister for the Public Service Mark Dreyfus said there was no one answer to that, but public servants could apply a new set of public service values when deciding what to do.

Speaking to the new class of about 170 graduates, he said the new set of values would help them make decisions about issues such as how far can they go in helping a mate get a job in the public service.

"Behaving ethically is critical in the public sector," he told the audience.

"A democracy cannot function without public trust in government nor without a system of public administration in which the community can have confidence.

"From the perspective of government and the community, the public service is only as trustworthy as each of its employees.

"In adhering to these values in its work, the APS will ensure that Australians can trust that our government is conducted to the highest ethical and performance standards.

"Australia will have a public service where its staff can be proud of their work and have confidence that they have delivered professional and impartial services to the very best of their ability."

The new values launched by Mr Dreyfus come into effect on July 1, together with changes to strengthen the role of the Public Service Commissioner.

The former set of values was long, difficult to remember and not sufficiently focussed on contemporary requirements, Mr Dreyfus said.

“The current 15 Australian Public Service values will be replaced with a shorter set of values that are intended to be more meaningful, memorable and effective in driving changes," he said.

The values were fundamental to the integrity of the public service, he said.

'They lie at the heart of the democratic process and the confidence the public has in the way public servants deliver services and exercise authority when meeting government objectives," he said.

"Good public administration is a protection not only against inefficiency and poor performance, but also against fraud, corruption, inequity, inability to conduct business confidently and infringement of human rights."

Along with the new values, recent amendments require decisions to appoint or sack departmental secretaries to be made by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, rather than by a decision of the Prime Minister, and set five years as the minimum appointment period, unless the secretary requests otherwise.

"A five-year term will help to avoid the perception that appointments can be tied to the electoral cycle," Mr Dreyfus said.

The new Australian Public Service values:

  • Impartial: The APS is apolitical and provides the government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.
  • Committed to service: The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the government.
  • Accountable: The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of ministerial responsibility.
  • Respectful: The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.
  • Ethical: The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does