Management of Conflict of Interest Policy

POLICY NO: C-36

DATE OF APPROVAL: 26 October 2018 Council Resolution 2017/6/8

REFERENCE AUTHORITY:  Director Chancellery and Council Services

CROSS REFERENCES:

Australian Accounting Standards: Disclosure of Interests
C 2: Equal Opportunity
Code of Ethical Conduct
Code of Good Practice: Relationships between staff and students
HR 32: Outside Work Policy
RES: 1 Responsible Practice in Research
RES: 22 Intellectual Property: Ownership and Management Policy
UniSA Procurement Handbook
University of South Australia Enterprise Agreement

CONTENTS:

Purpose
Scope
Principles and obligations
Definitions
Procedures
Roles and responsibilities
Reporting and evaluation
Further advice and information
Responsible Officer
Review schedule

1. PURPOSE

1.1    The University of South Australia (UniSA) is committed to developing a high performance, enterprising culture where people work for, not just in, the University.

1.2    Our core attributes encourage UniSA employees to:

  • take initiative to deliver results
  • provide solutions by working in partnership across and outside the University
  • ensure we are relevant and industry connected in all that we do, and
  • benchmark with the best.

1.3    UniSA recognises that UniSA employees will interact with Government agencies, industry, private companies and professional and community organisations, both through their role in the University and their personal interests.  It also recognises that there will be times when these interests could give rise to an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest which needs to be managed.

1.4    Conflicts of interest could seriously affect the integrity of the work of UniSA and unmanaged conflicts could undermine the crucial trust and confidence in UniSA’s work being delivered fairly and transparently, without favour or bias.

1.5    This policy is designed to support UniSA employees to understand their obligations to:
1.5.1    identify their personal interests
1.5.2    declare actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest, and
1.5.3    provide guidance for the pro-active management of conflicts of interest that may arise in the course of carrying out their duties.

1.6    The policy:
1.6.1    articulates the responsibility of UniSA employees’ to register personal interests and declarations of a conflict of interest; and to record those through the following two confidential registers:

  • Register of Personal Interests for Senior Staff
  • Register of Declarations of Conflict of Interest for all staff;

Both Registers will be managed by the People, Talent and Culture (PTC) Unit.


1.6.2    requires all Senior Staff to register their personal interests, both pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests, on an annual basis or when their interests change. This will be recorded through the Register of Personal Interests Form (Senior Staff).

2. SCOPE

2.1    This policy applies to all UniSA employees.  
2.2    It does not apply to:

  • UniSA Council Members, whose management of Conflicts of interest is specified in the University of South Australia Act 1990 (S 15C), or
  • other members of the UniSA community e.g. Adjuncts, students, volunteers, consultants or contractors for whom there are separate obligations.

3. PRINCIPLES AND OBLIGATIONS

The integrity of UniSA is critical to its acceptance in the South Australian community, nationally and internationally as a higher education and research provider committed to excellence and equity in all its activities. Conflicts of interest could seriously affect the integrity of the work of UniSA and unmanaged conflicts could undermine the crucial trust and confidence in UniSA’s work being delivered fairly and transparently, without favour or bias.

3.1    UniSA employees should be aware and considerate of the potential effect of conflicts of interest and their potential to result in serious or systemic corruption, misconduct or maladministration which can lead to consequential legal action against an individual or UniSA.

3.2    A conflict between an employee’s duties to UniSA and their personal interests may arise from time to time. Declaring interests and managing actual, perceived or potential conflicts of interest is essential for promoting and maintaining public confidence in the integrity of UniSA’s teaching, research and business operations.

3.3    Prevention of a conflict of interest is consistent with the University’s Code of Ethical Conduct (Code) which states “University staff should both be and appear to be free of any interest (financial or otherwise) which might be regarded as being in conflict or incompatible with their integrity and objectivity”.

3.4    All UniSA employees are required to familiarise themselves with the provisions of the Code, particularly, the defined ethical standards of behaviour and the required personal characteristics of honesty, sincerity, impartiality and trustworthiness. UniSA employees are expected to actively avoid being placed in situations of actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

3.5    UniSA employees occupy a position of trust in respect of the University’s students. UniSA discourages sexual or other intimate relationships between its staff and students in view of the unequal positions. Members of academic staff are expected to remove themselves immediately from any supervisory, teaching or assessment roles involving students with whom they have or have had a sexual or intimate personal relationship.

3.6    An actual or potential conflict of interest should not be used as a reason to avoid or unreasonably delay a decision or action.

3.7    UniSA is committed to the proactive management and the timely and open declaration of actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest, so that:

  • conflicts can be managed effectively
  • UniSA employees are clear about their responsibilities and can be protected from potential negative consequences of conflicts of interest
  • management strategies stand up to external review or scrutiny
  • UniSA is protected from unnecessary exposure to risk, and;
  • the integrity and trust of UniSA and its employees are maintained.

4. DEFINITIONS

Personal Interests and Conflicts of Interest

4.1    A conflict of interest can be actual, potential or perceived and may arise where the direct or indirect personal interests of a UniSA employee conflicts with, is in opposition to, or appears to or actually does inappropriately influence how they undertake their obligations to UniSA.  It can be time limited or on-going.

4.2    The test is whether an independent observer may reasonably question the factors affecting the decisions or actions of an employee, and not whether they have in fact affected the decision or action.

Conflicts of interest are generally divided into two types:
4.2.1    pecuniary (involving financial gain or loss), and
4.2.2    non-pecuniary (personal interests of a non-financial nature which can be based on enmity or amity). These can be direct or indirect. For example, where the conflict is related to someone with whom the employee has a significant relationship (i.e. spouse, family member, associate or close friend).

4.3    Actual conflicts of interest arise when there is a direct conflict between an employee’s duties and responsibilities and their personal interests which influence the performance of those duties.

4.4    Potential conflicts of interest are where a conflict of interest may arise in the future due to personal interests conflicting with or influencing required University duties or responsibilities.

4.5    Perceived conflicts of interest include situations where it could be perceived, or appear to a reasonable person, that an employee’s personal interests could improperly or unduly influence the performance of their duties and responsibilities.

4.6    A personal interest is anything that can have an impact on an individual, or a person with whom the UniSA employee has a relationship or an association. Personal interests can bring benefit or disadvantage. UniSA’s activities are broad and wide ranging in nature and guidance on the types of situation which may give rise to conflicts cannot be exhaustively listed. Examples of personal interests that could create conflicts of interest with UniSA include, but are not limited to:

  • financial and economic interests (which could include shares, investments, assets or debts) or associations with family or private business(es).
  • involvement in the commercialisation of UniSA Intellectual Property (IP). Refer to UniSA Policy RES 22, Intellectual Property: Ownership and Management Policy for further detail and examples of IP activities that may give rise to a conflict.
  • affiliations, either personal or as a UniSA nominee, with for-profit and not-for-profit organisations and associations which could include directorships on Boards or roles on committees.
  • affiliations or involvement with sporting, social, political or cultural organisations where the nature of the affiliation (e.g. office bearer) may give rise to actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest.
  • future employment prospects or plans or involvement in secondary employment (“outside work”) that may conflict with the employee’s duties (e.g. private practice, private consultancy, academic appointment or business owner). For further details refer to UniSA Policy HR-32.0, Outside Work Policy.
  • provision of specialist skills, undertakings and relationships (such as obligations to professional, community, ethnic, family or religious groups in a personal or professional capacity or relationships to people living in the same household).
  • significant family (domestic partners, relatives or spouses of staff members) or other close personal relationships (e.g. clients, contractors or other staff working in the same or a related organisation) which could include amity or enmity towards, or competition with, another person or group. Close personal relationships may include spouse, partner, dependent or any person living in the same dwelling and any other relative or friend that may give rise to a conflict in performing University duties such as selection, appointment or promotion of a staff member or other employment-related decisions.
  • involvement of members of academic staff in any direct supervisory, teaching or assessment roles with students with whom they have, or have had, a sexual or intimate personal relationship. The power imbalance between teaching and supervisory staff and their students means that the relationship may be vulnerable to exploitation and may affect the capacity of a student to freely consent to associations or relationships initiated by staff. It can also give rise to other negative outcomes such as favouritism, assessment advantage, sexual harassment or accusations of these from others.
  • requesting, receiving or accepting gifts or benefits either for themselves or another person (which may be interpreted as having influenced their behaviour in a way that could pose a conflict of interest). In line with the Code these must be declared as soon as practically possible to the employee’s line manager.

4.7    Common examples of workplace situations which may conflict with a personal interest could include significant family or other relationships which could, or does, affect, student selection for entry into UniSA, student assessments; employment or supervision of staff, awarding tenders, selection of contractors, decision making, and authorisation of expenditure.

4.8    A conflict of interest can arise where an employee performs, assumes or is assigned multiple roles, either by way of, or as an addition to, their substantive appointment in UniSA.  

4.9    In the context of this policy;
4.9.1    declaration means an employee’s disclosure of details of an actual or potential conflict of interest;
4.9.2    management strategy is the conflict management strategy which forms part of the Declaration of Conflict of Interest Form and is completed in conference with, and endorsed by, the line manager and a member of the Senior Management Group (SMG).

5. PROCEDURES

Declaration of actual or potential conflicts of interest

5.1    Employees are obliged to formally declare an actual or potential conflict of interest that may arise through the normal course of carrying out their duties as an employee of UniSA.

5.2    If an employee thinks they may have an actual or potential conflict of interest, they must discuss it with their line manager or approach the PTC team for assistance to confirm whether it fits the criteria of an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest and discuss strategies for managing the potential or actual conflict.

In the event of an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest, employees must complete the Declaration of Conflict of Interest and forward it to their line manager for review, completion and sign-off.
5.3    The line manager must ensure that the approved Declaration of Conflict of Interest Form, is forwarded to the appropriate member of SMG and the Executive Director: PTC for recording on the UniSA Register of Declaration of Conflict of Interest within 7 days.  The Declaration of Conflict of Interest Form will be placed on the employee’s personnel file.

5.4    If a UniSA employee is concerned at any time about an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest resulting from the actions or relationships of another UniSA employee, they must disclose that concern to a member of PTC who will determine an appropriate action.

Managing a Conflict of Interest

5.5    Where an actual, potential or perceived conflict is declared by an employee, it is the obligation of the employee’s line manager to consider, develop and document an agreed strategy for the management of the conflict. Section 6 of this policy outlines the roles and responsibilities involved in managing conflicts of interest.

5.6    At a minimum, line managers should consider the following strategies to ensure the integrity of functions under their responsibility:

  • placing limitations or restrictions on some or all of the employee’s involvement in the matter, for example segregating duties, separation of supervision, control of access to and visibility of information, short term transfer to an alternate role
  • appointing a disinterested third party/themselves to oversee part or all of the process that deals with the matter
  • determining that the employee does not participate in the matter in any respect, and/or
  • ensuring that the personal interest is relinquished before any further action is taken.

5.7    UniSA discourages sexual or other intimate relationships between staff and students. Members of academic staff are expected to remove themselves immediately from any supervisory, teaching or assessment roles involving students with whom they have or have had a sexual or intimate personal relationship. Staff should declare in confidence any such action taken to their Head of School or Research Institute/Centre Director and a copy of the approved action and its rationale kept on the staff member’s confidential personnel file with the PTC Unit. The Head of School or other relevant line manager will review the action taken and approve or advise on any other action that needs to be taken.

5.8    Chairs of UniSA Committees must seek disclosure of any actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest from members as a standing item on their meeting agendas and record any declared conflicts of interest in line with their governance procedures.

Register of Declaration of Conflict of Interest

5.9    A Register of Declaration of Conflict of Interests will be established and maintained by the PTC Unit to record, and assist in the proper management of actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest. All disclosures will be managed with consideration for employees’ privacy and subject to the UniSA’s policies and the law. Disclosures will be shared in accordance with requirements of this policy and the UniSA’s requirement for confidentiality relating to matters of a personal nature will apply.

The employee who has a conflict is required to document the conflict by completing the Declaration of Conflict of Interest. This will record the following details (as relevant):

  • The matter to which the conflict relates, including dates of the conflict arising and the disclosure being made
  • Nature and details of conflict (actual, potential or perceived, pecuniary/non-pecuniary etc)
  • Employee details
  • Line manager details
  • Agreed conflict management strategy
  • Confirmation of relevant SMG member being notified
  • Responsibility for tracking the agreed conflict management strategy and review period(s).

Register of Personal Interests – Senior Staff

All senior staff of the University, as defined by the Senior Staff Collective Agreement 2006, are required under this Policy to complete a Register of Personal Interests Form (Senior Staff) on appointment consistent with this policy. All pecuniary and non-pecuniary interest(s) which could give rise to an actual, potential or perceived conflict must be included on the Form. Senior staff will be required to review their details on an annual basis and when their interests change.

5.10    This requirement is in addition to the University’s annual management certification process and the annual requirement for all members of the SMG to declare whether they have had any related party transactions with UniSA during the previous calendar year. [1]

5.11    When there is a change in a senior staff member’s interest(s), they are required to update the Register of Personal Interests Form (Senior Staff) as soon as practical and no later than 30 days after becoming aware of the interest, by submitting a new Form.

5.12    Copies of Register of Personal Interests Forms for Senior Staff will be retained on the senior staff member’s personnel file. Any disclosures of personal interests will be managed subject to UniSA’s policies and the law.

Failure to disclose or avoid a conflict of interest

5.13    Failure to disclose or avoid a conflict of interest is a breach of this policy and a potential breach of the Code and could result in disciplinary action for misconduct/serious misconduct in line with the provisions of the current University of South Australia Enterprise Agreement. Any reasonable suspicion of corruption, or serious or systemic misconduct or maladministration resulting from failure to disclose, address or manage conflicts of interest will be reported to the Office of Public Integrity.


[1] Known as the SMG Related Party Sign-off and Close Family Member Disclosure, required as part of the University’s Annual Financial Statements (ASF) process.

6. ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

6.1    All employees will:

  • avoid conflicts of interest and if avoidance is not possible, declare and manage conflicts of interest in conjunction with their line manager in accordance with this policy
  • ensure that their personal or financial interests do not influence or interfere with the performance of their UniSA responsibilities
  • ensure that the interest(s) of family members, friends or associates do not influence the performance by them of their duties and/or their role as an employee of UniSA
  • if they are Senior Staff, ensure they comply with the requirements of this policy in relation to registering personal interests
  • in the event of an actual or potential conflict of interest, follow the process outlined in this policy
  • take action in line with the management strategy agreed with their line manager or PTC Unit to resolve or manage actual or potential conflicts of interest
  • comply with any lawful and reasonable direction given by their line manager, including:
    • restrictions on the employee’s involvement in the matter, or
    • that the employee does not participate in the matter, and
  • if they are concerned at any time about an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest resulting from the actions or relationships of another UniSA employee, understand they have an obligation to disclose that concern in confidence to the PTC Unit.

6.2    Line Managers will:

  • ensure they maintain awareness of the risks and conflicts that could be inherent to the work of the employees that they line manage on behalf of UniSA
  • consider whether there are positions under their supervision which may be particularly vulnerable to actual or potential conflicts of interest and discuss these concerns with the employees in those roles
  • receive and assess Register of Personal Interests Forms for Senior Staff from employees under their supervision for pro-active avoidance of risk
  • discuss and manage actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest with their employees in line with this policy
  • consider any conditions and restrictions to be imposed by UniSA to manage, mitigate or eliminate any actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest
  • on receipt of a Declaration of Conflict of Interest, discuss with the employee the formulation of a conflict management strategy, document the agreed actions and ensure oversight of compliance with the strategy and nominated review period
  • ensure all details as required under this policy are included on the Declaration of Conflict of Interest
  • escalate actual, potential or perceived conflict of interests, and copies of associated Declaration of Conflict of Interest Forms, to the relevant SMG member (or delegate) for their advice and approval, and
  • ensure Declaration of Conflict of Interest Forms are forwarded to the PTC Unit for recording on the confidential Register of Declaration of Conflicts of Interest, and a copy held on the employee’s personnel file.

6.3    Senior Management Group members will:

  • review and approve any Declaration of Conflict of Interest Forms or notifications received (including the agreed conflict management strategy)
  • ensure the conflict management strategy is commensurate with the nature of the conflict, the operating environment, complexity of the situation and severity of the matter and is consistent with legislative and UniSA policy requirements
  • ensure actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest are recorded on the confidential Declaration of Conflict of Interest Register
  • ensure that agreed conflict of interest management strategies are managed appropriately; including checking the mechanism for tracking adherence with the agreed strategy is appropriate and monitor agreed review periods, and
  • ensure that they, and their senior staff direct reports, comply with the requirement to complete a Register of Personal Interests Form (Senior Staff) in line with this Policy.

6.4    The Vice Chancellor (or delegate) will:

  • ensure that education on conflict of interest management is provided:
    • at orientation/induction and performance review and development for all employees, and
    • to those with specific line management authority and responsibility for the effective management of actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
  • ensure employees are regularly reminded about their obligation to declare actual or potential conflicts of interest, and
  • ensure Senior Staff are, on appointment and thereafter annually, completing a Register of Personal Interests Form (Senior Staff) for Senior Staff in line with this Policy.

6.5    The PTC Unit will:

  • maintain procedures in line with this Policy, including the development and maintenance of Registers of Personal Interests for Senior Staff and Declaration of Conflict of Interest and associated documentation/Forms and guidance
  • ensure all employees are regularly reminded about their obligation to declare actual or perceived conflicts of interest
  • provide advice to employees who believe another member of staff has a conflict of interest that impacts the operations of the University
  • ensure all Senior Staff are aware of their obligations in relation to registering personal interests
  • provide advice and support to managers in developing conflict management strategies;
  • maintain copies of Register of Personal Interests Forms for Senior Staff on personnel files and Declaration of Conflict of Interest Forms in a confidential file.
  • report on management of conflict of interest as required by the Vice Chancellor or the SMG or committees of Council, e.g. Audit and Risk Management Committee (ARMC), and
  • ensure alignment between this Policy and associated human resource policies and procedures so employees are clear about their obligations and responsibilities

6.6    Audit and Risk Management Committee will:

  • review reports generated from the Register of Declaration of Conflict of Interest and highlight any concerns and/or remedial action required to the Vice Chancellor or Executive Director: PTC.

7. REPORTING AND EVALUATION

ARMC will review six monthly summary reports on compliance with the requirements of this policy, including summary data generated from the confidential Register of Declaration of Conflict of Interest.

8. FURTHER ADVICE AND INFORMATION

Code of Ethical Conduct

Codes of Good Practice – Relationships between staff and students

Core Attributes of UniSA Staff

Discrimination and Harassment Grievance Procedures (Staff)

Diversity and Representation on Committees and Working Groups

Equal Opportunity

Health Safety and Injury Management

Intellectual Property: Ownership and Management Policy

Outside Work Policy

Reporting breaches of the Code

Student Complaints Resolution

UniSA Procurement Handbook

University of South Australia Act 1990

University of South Australia Enterprise Agreement

Research and Innovation Services Conflicts of Interest in Research

 

9. RESPONSIBLE OFFICER - DIRECTOR: CHANCELLERY AND COUNCIL SERVICES

This policy is a council policy and the Director: Chancellery and Council Services is responsible for its implementation and review.

10. REVIEW SCHEDULE

This policy will be reviewed in accordance with the UniSA Policy Framework and/or when there is a change in legislation, Enterprise Agreement or other relevant instrument or associated policy which requires review.