Tas told to strengthen public sector gifts policy

Tasmania’s integrity watchdog says that most government employees and officers who accept gifts worth more than $100 say they do so for “networking and goodwill’.

Chief Commissioner Greg Melick

However, the gifts shouldn’t have been accepted in about half the cases.

The Integrity Commission’s oversight and compliance team audited the gifts and benefits registers of state agencies to see if Tasmania’s whole-of-government Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy is achieving its objectives.

“A central principle of the policy is that in most situations, ‘thanks’ is enough”, the commission says.

“However, some declarations on the gift registers clearly show that this principle has not always been observed.”

A report tabled by the commission on November 16 highlights what it says are ongoing risks relating to government employees and officers accepting gifts and benefits.

It cites a number of examples, including where a state service employee stated ‘networking and goodwill’ as the reason for accepting membership of the Qantas Chairman’s lounge, while tickets were accepted to sporting matches  to ‘maintain stakeholder relationships’.

In other examples of largesse, the Tasmania Fire Service received a gift of 222 $500 Coles gift cards totalling $111,000.

Officers and employees should not expect to receive gifts, benefits or hospitality for doing a job they are paid by the public to do.

Chief Commissioner Greg Melick

Tourism Tasmania’s gift register for 2021-22 also recorded an instance where an employee attended a course paid for by a marketing communications company that had a $1 million advertising contract with Tourism Tasmania that was up for renewal.

Accepting gifts and benefits can be problematic, Chief Commissioner Greg Melick said, and state service employees and officers shouldn’t be accepting anything other than ‘token items’ as a gift.

“Officers and employees should not expect to receive gifts, benefits or hospitality for doing a job they are paid by the public to do,” he said.

He said Tasmania’s head of State Service Jenny Gale was already moving to resolve ambiguities in the policy around gifts over $100.

The report also recommends that state service employees and agencies be required to explain the benefits of attending public networking events.

“We’re confident that updating the policy would provide state service employees and officers with clarity and contribute directly to enhancing confidence in the integrity and accountability of the public sector,” Chief Commissioner Melick said.

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