What is a conflict of interest?

A conflict of interest can be actual, potential or perceived and may arise where the direct or indirect personal interests of a member of staff of the University conflict with, are in opposition to, appear to or actually inappropriately influence how they undertake their obligations to UniSA.  It can be time limited or on-going.

The test for determining whether a conflict exists is whether an independent observer may reasonably question the factors affecting the decisions or actions of a staff member, and not whether they have in fact affected the decision or action.

Conflicts of interest are generally divided into two types:

  • Pecuniary (involving financial gain or loss), and
  • 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 staff member has a significant relationship (i.e. spouse, family member, associate or close friend).

A personal interest is anything that can have an impact on an individual, or a person with whom the UniSA staff member has a relationship or an association. Personal interests can bring benefit or disadvantage. The policy provides a range of examples [link here to the definition in policy C-36 on personal interests] of personal interests that may present a conflict of interest.

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

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.

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

A conflict may arise where an individual has multiple and incompatible public duties. This may occur, for example, when a staff member has a public role with another organisation in addition to their University duties. University staff may have involvement with external organisations such as: serving on a board or committee, holding an honorary appointment with another university, being involved in a Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) or other research project external to the university, or serving as a director on a controlled entity of the university. This can often result in dualities of interest or obligation with respect to the University and the other organisation.

As staff of the University, we must all take responsibility for avoiding and preventing a conflict of interest in the performance of our duties and in our relationships with others. Declaring these interests and managing actual, perceived or potential conflicts is essential for promoting and maintaining public confidence in the integrity of UniSA’s teaching and learning, research and business operations.