Conflicts of Interest / Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality
Conflict of Interest Register
Before registering a conflict of interest / gift, benefit or hospitality or assessing a previously disclosed matter, please take time to review the Conflict of Interest procedures (see below for more information):
Click here if you:
NOTE 1: Curtin's new Conflict of Interest / Gift, Benefit and Hospitality reporting system will become available via the above link from Monday 3 April 2017.
NOTE 2: Under the new system, any email correspondence issued by the system will originate either from: Conflictsofinterest@curtin.edu.au (for conflicts other than those involving gifts) or GiftDisclosures@curtin.edu.au (for conflicts involving only gifts).
Procedures and Guidance
The Code of Conduct outlines seven professional standards of behaviour that all parties to the Code should understand and strive to meet. One of these standards concerns Conflicts of Interest:
... all parties to the Code are required to avoid any conflict of interest (real or apparent) to act in the best interest of the University .
A key message in the above standard is the need to avoid conflicts of interest in the first place. This is explained further in the FAQs below.
The Conflict of Interest procedures provide essential guidance on how Curtin University expects its officers to conduct themselves in relation to conflicts of interest, including gifts, benefits and hospitality. More details associated with the procedures are found in the following appendices:
- Appendix 1: Types of Conflicts of Interest (includes a comprehensive set of examples - for illustrative purposes only)
- Appendix 2: Guidelines for determining if a conflict of interest exists
- Appendix 3: Strategies for managing conflicts of interest
To get a quick overview of the procedures, please click on this flowchart which summarises what you need to know in one printable page.
FAQs - for those disclosing a conflict of interest / gift, benefit or hospitality
To assist you in obtaining a better understanding of your obligations in relation to notifying the University of conflicts of interest / gifts, benefits and hospitality under these procedures, please refer to the following FAQs:
1. Do these procedures apply to me?
If you are a party to the Code, then these procedures apply to you. Refer to the code for more detail.
2. Why should I disclose my conflicts of interest / gifts, benefits and hospitality?
As a party to the Code, if you take reasonable steps to:
- avoid conflicts in the first place; and
- disclose them when there is a requirement to do so
you are demonstrating behaviour that aligns with Curtin's core values and showing that you are acting in the best interests of the University. From a whole-of-University perspective, a good system of disclosure minimises the risk of corruption, misconduct and bias in the University's operations and decision-making processes.
The Code reflects the importance of compliance when it states ... Breaches of the Code or any of the principles, policies or procedures it prescribes may result in sanctions being applied.
Here are some examples of where public figures have had their integrity brought into question as a result of a failure to properly disclose conflicts of interest / gifts, benefits and hospitality in the course of their employment or duties:
3. What sort of actions would indicate I have failed to avoid a conflict?
There is potential for conflicts in all aspects of University operations e.g. teaching, research, assessment, staffing and commercial activity.
However, you also need to take reasonable steps to avoid conflicts of interest in the first place and not accept gifts, benefits or hospitality if, by doing so, a conflict would be created.. Here are some examples where the specified action indicates that reasonable steps have not been taken to avoid a conflict of interest:
- where you do not follow University-approved staff recruitment or supplier selection processes by personally sourcing and engaging a family member to do University work, either as a casual employee or contractor.
- where you accept a directorship in an external company or entity that you are aware supplies the University with goods or services, or is negotiating a contract to do so.
In the above examples, engaging in the specified behaviour, disclosing the matter as a conflict and then expecting a nominated responsible officer to address the conflict would not negate the fact that you have failed to take reasonable steps to avoid getting into the situation in the first place.
If you are unsure, its best to seek advice from your line manager or the ISU.
4. Who decides if I have a conflict?
It is your responsibility to identify and disclose your own conflicts of interest (whether actual, perceived or potential), but it is the responsible officer you nominate in disclosing the conflict who makes the final decision as to whether a conflict exists and, if so, how it should be managed. This will usually be your line manager.
Appendix 2 may be of assistance in helping you to determine if you need to disclose a conflict.
There is nothing wrong with seeking advice first, or disclosing a matter which turns out not to be a conflict of interest once it has been independently assessed.
5. Should I always make a disclosure to my manager?
You need to determine the responsible officer who is best placed to make an independent decision as to whether a conflict of interest exists in relation to the matter you are disclosing, and if so, how that conflict should be managed.
In determining how the reported conflict should by managed, the responsible officer will consider the strategies outlined in Appendix 3.
The responsible officer should usually be your line manager, but not always. It depends on the situation in which the conflict of interest arises e.g. being placed on a staff selection panel where one of the candidates is a relative or close friend would require an immediate disclosure to the Chair of the selection panel.
6. Should I tell others that I have disclosed a conflict?
If you have formally registered a conflict, and knowledge of that conflict could impact later on a process being run or a decision being made by another University officer in the course of their duties, you are obliged to inform that officer of the matter.
Failure to do so could be viewed as a breach of these procedures and the Code, particularly if you are unduly advantaged (financially or otherwise) or the University disadvantaged by your failure to inform the relevant officer.
7. Do I have to disclose the same conflict every year?
Provided there are no changes in the circumstances that resulted in your conflict being disclosed and addressed earlier, you do not have to re-register the same disclosure to the same responsible officer.
8. What happens if the circumstances of my disclosed conflict change?
You should inform the responsible officer who you originally submitted your conflict notification to if any changes arise that may:
- alter that responsible officer's original decision that there was no conflict to be addressed; or
- impact on the need for or effectiveness of the management strategy originally specified by the responsible officer at the time it was determined that there was a conflict of interest that needed to be addressed.
9. What if I suspect another person's conflict hasn't been disclosed?
A situation may arise where you, as a third party, suspect that an individual has not taken reasonable steps to disclose a conflict or that a disclosed matter is not being managed appropriately.
In such cases, please first seek advice from the ISU as this may represent a breach of the Code and warrant further independent investigation.
FAQs - for those assessing and responding to a conflict of interest / gift, benefit or hospitality disclosure
To assist you in obtaining a better understanding of your obligations as a responsible officer in relation to assessing and responding to conflict of interest / gift, benefit or hospitality disclosures that have been directed to you, please refer to the following FAQs:
1. I have received a conflict notification, what do I do now?
If you have been formally notified of a conflict of interest that needs to be addressed, the first thing you need to do is to promptly assess it to determine whether it represents a conflict of interest, as per the procedures.
The guidance provided in Appendix 2 may assist you in the process.
2. I've determined there is no conflict, what do I do?
You will need to:
Login to the online Conflict of Interest Register and indicate that no management strategy is required.
Contact the disclosing officer and inform them of your decision (Note: they will receive an automatic notification via email anyway, but its always good practice to ensure they have received and read it.
3. I've determined there is a conflict, what do I do?
You will need to:
- Determine the most appropriate strategy for dealing with the actual, perceived or potential conflict. The guidance provided in Appendix 3 may assist you in this process.
- Login to the online Conflict of Interest Register and input your management strategy in the appropriate location. Please provide detailed instructions on what needs to be done.
- Contact the disclosing officer and inform them of your decision (Note: they will receive an automatic notification via email anyway, but its always good practice to ensure they have received and read it).
4. What happens if I can't make an assessment
If you can't make an assessment, then you will need to contact the disclosing officer to either:
- request that they re-enter their disclosure because of insufficient information; or
- discuss the matter further in order to make an assessment on the available information.
5. What else do I need to do?
You will need to keep records of the conflict of interest notifications you have actioned and on at least a yearly basis, review and monitor the decisions you made to ensure the objectives of the strategies are still being achieved.
The ISU can assist you in this process.
As a responsible officer, if you are made aware or if you determine that a strategy not longer sufficiently addresses the previously disclosed conflict, you will need to develop a new strategy.
Please contact the ISU for assistance if this happens.
FAQs (general information on types of conflicts)
The following FAQs may assist you in understanding some of the key types of conflicts covered by the procedures:
1. What are the main types of conflicts that exist?
The University has identified 13 types of conflict of interest that you may face in your daily work. Each category is described in more detail (with sets of examples) in Appendix 1:
- Financial Interests
- Close personal relationships between individuals
- Close personal relationships between individuals and students
- Personal views of individuals towards others
- Gifts, benefits and hospitality
- Sponsorships and other agreements
- Secondary employment
- Use of University facilities and equipment
- Use of official information
- Personal beliefs
- Public comment
- Multiple roles
2. Why is there a focus on research in the procedures?
Research activities provide many opportunities for conflicts of interest to arise.
Moreover, the University endorses the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, which places additional responsibilities on researchers in relation to conflicts of interest (refer to Part A, section 7 in the Australian Code).
In fact, section 7 of the Australian Code specifically states that ... institutions need to have a comprehensive policy in place to cover the likely range of circumstances (pertaining to conflicts of interest).
Please refer to section 2 of the Appendix 1 guidelines for more information on conflicts of interest arising from research activities.
3. What is a "close personal relationship" in relation to conflicts?
As per the procedures, a "close personal relationship" is one where there ... is a relationship between an individual and a relative, a financially dependent person, a close friend, a de facto partner or any person with whom there is currently, or has been, an intimate relationship.
In large organisations such as Curtin, it is likely that at some point in your career, you may be placed in a situation where you have an actual, perceived or potential conflict of interest with another individual with whom you have a close personal relationship. This may be between yourself and another staff member, or between yourself and a student.
It is imperative that you recognise when this happens and take immediate action to register a conflict of interest.
Moreover, as described above, you need to be aware that it is also contrary to the procedures to take any action which would be seen as having failed to take reasonable steps to avoid a conflict of interest when dealing with people with whom you have a close personal relationship. e.g. personally selecting or influencing the selection of your partner as a casual research assistant on your research project. Taking such action cannot be addressed by simply disclosing the conflict and expecting a responsible officer to recommend an appropriate management strategy.
Please refer to sections 3 and 4 of the Appendix 1 guidelines for more information on conflicts of interest involving close personal relationships.
4. How can "personal views" be a conflict?
If your personal views about an individual or group cause an inability (or perception of an inability) to perform your duties objectively and impartially in relation to the individual or group, then you may be conflicted.
Your views may be based on feelings of friendship (amity) or hostility, opposition, rivalry or contention (enmity), or it may be something to do with your personal positive or negative feelings towards that person or group.
It might be something as simple as being responsible for conducting a performance review on another party where you have previously invoked disciplinary action against that individual under the University's staff enterprise agreement.
Please refer to section 5 of the Appendix 1 guidelines for more information on conflicts of interest arising from personal views.
5. Why is the process for disclosing gifts, benefits or hospitality different to other conflicts?
Gifts, benefits and hospitality (hereafter referred to as "gifts") received by or offered to you in the course of your duties are treated differently under the procedures.
In the first instance, you need to personally make an assessment as to whether it would be appropriate for you to accept the gift (regardless of its nature, value or who has provided it to you). The question to ask yourself in performing this assessment is:
Would a reasonable disinterested observer, taking into consideration all relevant facts, conclude that the gift received or offered creates a conflict for you.
If the answer is "Yes", then you should politely decline, return or repay the gift if already received (regardless of value). If you are unsure, then simply don't accept it, or return or repay it if already received. Under such circumstances, it is not necessary to proceed any further in relation to disclosure via the system.
If the answer is “No”, then proceed as follows. Determine the value of the gift:
If it is valued at less than or equal to $150 and if by accepting the gift, the total value of gifts received by you from the same individual or organisation would not exceed $300 within a 12 month period, then you may keep the gift and it is not mandatory to make a disclosure via the system. Note: under these circumstances, you may still wish to make a disclosure for recordkeeping purposes and to keep track of gifts received over a 12 month period from the same individual or organisation (your line manager / responsible officer will not be notified of these disclosures by the system).
For all other situations (i.e. regardless of the gift’s value), disclosure is mandatory and your disclosure will be directed by the system to either your line manager or Executive Manager for a decision to be made.
Please note: there are some types of gifts that should never be accepted - see section 6 under the Appendix 1 guidelines for more information on conflicts of interest arising from gifts, benefits and hospitality.
If you believe someone is trying to induce favoured treatment from you by providing you with the gift, then please notify the ISU immediately. If you are unsure about disclosing a gift, seek advice from your line manager or the ISU.
6. How are sponsorship benefits different to gifts?
Some sponsorship arrangements between the University and third parties may include the provision of discounted or free goods or services, or contra (exchanged items). Similar benefits may arise from University contracts with preferred suppliers of goods and services e.g. discounted airline tickets or accumulated sales reward points converted to free equipment etc.
In all such cases, these benefits are not to be treated as gifts. They automatically become the property of the University as they are obtained under and as a result of a formal agreement between the University and an external entity.
As such, if you personally come into possession of such benefits from a third party as per an agreement, you must register a conflict of interest and the nominated responsible officer will make a decision in relation to the items.
Please refer to section 7 of the Appendix 1 guidelines for more information on conflicts of interest arising from sponsorship benefits.