The Australian Public Service Commission has told 15 federal public servants they may have breached their code of conduct through their involvement in robodebt, and will continue to investigate most of them.
In an update published on Thursday afternoon, the Public Service Commission said it had issued notices outlining the grounds and categories for potential breaches to 15 of the 16 people who had been referred to it in relation to the unlawful scheme.
Of the 15, four people had already been issued a "preliminary determination" that they had breached one or more elements of the code of conduct, while 11 investigations were still ongoing.
The remaining investigation had concluded as "the individual's actions did not meet the threshold to issue a notice of suspected breach", the commission said in a statement.
"Final determinations and, if appropriate, decisions about sanctions will be communicated to individuals once preliminary determinations are finalised," the Public Service Commission said in a statement.
"The timeframe for the conclusion of inquiries depends on various factors, including the complexity of each matter, the number of submissions and any extensions that may be requested by respondents."
Public Service Commission inquiry goes beyond referrals
The robodebt royal commission report, handed down in July 2023, included a sealed section recommending the referral of individuals for civil and criminal prosecution.
The National Anti Corruption Commission and Australian Federal Police received referrals, alongside the Public Service Commission.
The Public Service Commission has not identified the 16 people it was investigating.
While Royal Commissioner Catherine Holmes only referred current public servants at the time, the commission expanded the scope of its response to include former APS employees, current APS employees named in the robodebt report but not the sealed section, and former agency heads.
Former Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick is leading the inquiries, supported by Department of Health deputy secretary Penny Shakespeare.
As supplementary reviewer, Ms Shakespeare made inquiries into the conduct of former agency heads.
"The 16 matters are complex, with a significant volume of evidence. Sufficient time is required to allow the independent reviewers, Mr Stephen Sedgwick AO and Ms Penny Shakespeare, to conduct the inquiries in a manner that is robust and affords respondents appropriate procedural fairness," the Public Service Commission said.
What is the APS code of conduct?
The code of conduct is included in the Public Service Act, and sets out behaviour which APS employees and agency heads must comply with.
It includes things such as maintaining confidentiality around dealings with Ministers and their staff, behaving honestly and with integrity and not providing false or misleading information in response to requests for official information - in addition to a list of other standards.
Generally, agency heads investigate staff suspected of breaches, but in the case of robodebt, the Public Service Commission set up a special response team.
Sanctions include termination of employment, demotion, reassignment of duties, reduction in salary, fines and a reprimand.
Agency heads have already had the opportunity to make changes to the employment arrangements of public servants identified in the robodebt royal commission report.