Nearly 5,000 public servants witnessed corruption in their agencies as the number of bureaucrats reporting cronyism, nepotism and other misconduct grew in a new survey.
The latest public service commission State of the Service report found 5 per cent or 4,900 surveyed government staff said they had seen corrupt behaviour, a rate that has risen steadily since a surveyin 2013-14 that found 2.6 per cent had witnessed it in their workplaces.
However the Australian Public Service Commission said the number of bureaucrats reporting they had seen corruption in 2016-17 could not be compared to figures from 2013-14, because definitions and questions in the survey had changed.
Agencies are investigating more public servants for behaving dishonestly than three years ago but fewer than last year, as 333 came under scrutiny in code of conduct probes that found 287 had acted inappropriately in 2016-17.
The number of government staff investigated for not upholding Australian Public Service values has also grown on 2013-14 figures, but decreased since last year.
After official investigations for breaches of the APS code of conduct soared by nearly 30 per cent in 2015-16, last year saw fewer probes, which fell by 121.
There were code of conduct investigations into 596 employees finalised in 2016-2017, a substantial decrease on the 717 in the previous year with 89 per cent of the accused found guilty.
Most wrongdoers received a reprimand or pay cut but 18 per cent of those sanctioned were sacked for breaching the code.
The APS commission said its findings showed government employees believed their workplaces upheld values of ethical behaviour and accountability.
"This suggests there is a strong culture of ethical behaviour in the APS," the report said.
A commission spokeswoman said it took corruption seriously, had issued revised guidance to agencies about their responsibilities under the code of conduct, and provided a toolkit for managers to help them spot corrupt behaviour in the workplace.
Of staff saying they had seen corruption, 64 per cent reported cronyism in their agency, while nepotism (26 per cent) was another common complaint among public servants.
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More than a fifth had witnessed "green-lighting", when colleagues made official decisions that improperly favoured a person or company, or disadvantaged another.
When asked if their senior leaders acted by APS values, only 66 per cent of the bureaucracy's mid-level staff said yes. The figure grew when they were asked about their supervisor (88 per cent) and colleagues in their immediate work group (86 per cent).
ANU Crawford School of Public Policy director Helen Sullivan said integrity had become the main issue for governments across the region.
Any incidence of corruption in the public service was important.
"I'm not really sold on the argument that the numbers are still small," she said.
"In the current climate, it's not something the public service can respond to by saying 'we're fine, we've got robust systems'."
It would not take long for public distrust in governments, which had grown in recent years, to translate into deteriorating trust in the bureaucracy, Professor Sullivan said.
Australia ranked 13th in Transparency International's index of perceived public sector corruption in 2016, down from ninth in 2013,as its score slipped slightly to 79 from 81 in that period. In 2012, the country scored 85.
A report released last month, led by former Prime Minister and Cabinet department secretary Terry Moran, found most Australians wanted a federal anti-corruption commission.
The APS gave itself a clean bill of health last year, saying it did not want or need a new federal corruption-busting commission.
Transparency International has previously argued that present anti-corruption efforts in the federal sphere were fragmented and full of gaps, saying there could be no serious case put forward against establishing a broad-based federal agency focused on the problem.
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