Policy Human Resources Conflict of Interest Policy

Conflict of Interest Policy


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Intent

Conflicts of Interest occur where staff with a particular interest could be influenced, or might appear to be influenced, in the performance of their duties. Staff are required to disclose and obtain evaluation of any conflict of interest.

This Policy and its procedures outlines the process for the identification and management of actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest, and the management of conflicts of commitment including the registering of interests by senior management and key staff.

While conflicts of interest are not wrong in themselves, and indeed cannot always be avoided, the potential for a conflict of interest exists in all aspects of University operations, including research, teaching, assessment, staffing, administration, and commercial activity. With increasing links between the University and other organisations, companies and institutions, it is important that staff act, and are seen to act, with integrity and are not inappropriately benefited by improperly using their position in the University.

Scope

The Policy applies to all members of staff and affiliates of the University at all times while engaged in University business or otherwise representing the University.

Definitions

Except as otherwise specified in this Policy or the Code of Conduct, the meaning of terms used are as per the Policy Glossary.

Actual conflict of interest

A real conflict between current duties and responsibilities and existing private interests.

Associate

An associate may be:

(a) a spouse, sibling, parent or child or other family member or a person ordinarily resident in a staff member’s household;

(b) an entity of which a staff member or a staff member’s nominee is a shareholder, member or officer;

(c) a business partner

(d) an employer

(e) any other person or entity who could be advantaged (directly or indirectly) by the improper use of a staff member’s position at the University or information acquired by the staff member because of that position.

Conflict of commitment (or dual interests)

May arise where an individual has multiple and incompatible commercial and 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 involvements 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, or be the founder of a start-up entity. This can often result in dualities of interest or obligation with respect to the University and the other organisation. Also referred to as dual interests.

Conflict of Interest

A conflict of interest involves a conflict between the public duty and private interests of a public official, in which the public official has private interests which could improperly influence the performance of their official duties and responsibilities.

Arises when a staff member’s personal interests, or those of a person with whom they have a close personal relationship, conflict with their primary obligation to act in the interests of the University. A conflict of interest may be actual, perceived or potential. It can be pecuniary (involving financial gain or loss), or non-pecuniary (based on enmity or amity) and can arise from avoiding personal losses as well as gaining personal advantage, financial or otherwise.

Conflict of interest includes conflict of commitment.

Financial (or pecuniary) interest

Any right, claim, title or legal share in something having a monetary or equivalent value. Examples of financial interest include, but are not limited to, shares, share options, share of the profits of commercialisation as per the JCU IP policy, and the right to receive remunerations such as salary, consulting fees, allowances, discounts and the like.

Foreign influence

All governments, including Australia’s, try to influence deliberations on issues of importance to them. These activities, when conducted in an open and transparent manner, are a normal aspect of international relations and diplomacy and can contribute positively to public debate.

Foreign interference

Occurs when activities are carried out by, or on behalf of a foreign actor, which are coercive, covert, deceptive or corrupting and are contrary to Australia’s sovereignty, values and national interests.

Perceived conflict of interest

Where a reasonable person might perceive that such improper influence as described in the Conflict of Interest Policy could exist.

Personal relationships

Either family, friend or other intimate relationship

Potential conflict of interest

Where a conflict may arise in the future between current or future duties and responsibilities and existing or future private interests.

Private (or personal) interests

Refers to any interests that involve potential gain or loss (financial or non- financial) for an individual or for any other person or organisation that individual may wish to benefit (e.g. family, friends, associates) or disadvantage (e.g. competitors, rivals).

Public Official

A public official is anyone in a position of official authority that is conferred by a State, i.e. someone who holds a legislative, administrative, or judicial position of any kind, whether appointed or elected. This definition extends to include officials or agents of public bodies and its staff, such as universities or research institutes.

Responsible Officer

For the purposes of this procedure, a Responsible Officer includes the Chief of Staff, Chief Financial Officer, Director JCU Connect, and Director Human Resources.

1. Principles

1.1  The University has a responsibility to ensure that its official activities and those of its staff conform to acceptable standards of integrity and good conduct. It recognises that a well-established system for identifying, declaring and managing conflicts of interest increases its public accountability and reduces the risk of corruption, misconduct and bias in its operations and decision-making processes.

1.2  The University also recognises that conflicts of interest are not unusual in the exercise of public responsibility, and cannot always be avoided.

1.3  The University expects:

1.3.1 Staff will not allow their external, personal or financial interests or their duties to any external entity to compromise their duties, obligations and responsibilities to the University.

1.3.2 All conflicts of interest, regardless of their character or level, will be identified, declared and managed.

1.3.3 Any gifts/donations/benefits/sponsorship/hospitality or service will not be accepted by staff if it might be reasonably interpreted as intended to influence current or future behaviour of staff or an individual College or Directorate /Office within the University (see also Reportable Gifts Policy). The preservation of academic and professional independence is a paramount consideration and should be made clear to potential sponsors/donors.

1.3.4 Where a conflict of interest occurs, the interests of the University will be balanced against the interests of the staff member. Unless exceptional circumstances exist, the balance of interests will be resolved in the University’s favour.

1.3.5 Managers/Supervisors, when notified of a conflict of interest, will deal promptly with the conflict as per the Procedure and put in place arrangements that protect the integrity of the staff member who has declared the interest and the University’s processes and decision-making.

1.4  Where a staff member is a member of the University Council, they must also comply with the Conflicts of Interest – University Council Policy.

2. Roles and Responsibilities

2.1  The Chief of Staff is responsible for the procedures and framework for managing conflict of interests within the University.

2.2  All Deputy Vice Chancellors, Pro Vice Chancellors Deans and Directors (Senior Management Group) are responsible for:

2.2.1 understanding and complying with this Policy and the Procedures;

2.2.2 being aware of areas of conflict of interest within their area of responsibility, assessing risks and advising the relevant Responsible Officer (identified below);

2.2.3 registering their Declaration of Interests on appointment to JCU and reviewing these annually in accordance with the Declaration of Interest – Senior Management and Specified Staff procedure;

2.2.4 assisting staff who have queries about actual, perceived or potential conflicts of interest;

2.2.5 seeking advice or support from the relevant Responsible Officer, where necessary.

2.3  Staff and affiliates are responsible for:

2.3.1 understanding and complying with this Policy and the Procedures;

2.3.2 assessing their own private and personal interests and whether they conflict or have the potential to conflict with the University’s interests, including their own duties as staff members;

2.3.3 disclosing and managing any actual, perceived or potential conflicts of interest in accordance with the Procedure;

2.3.4 where appropriate, being aware of additional, current requirements linked to research; and

2.3.5 not making decisions or seeking to influence the decisions of others in matters relating to the staff member’s private interest.

2.4 In addition, the Chief of Staff, Chief Financial Officer, Director JCU Connect, and Director Human Resources are designated Responsible Officers and have specific management responsibility for the functional areas of: Corporate Governance, Finance, Research and Human Resources respectively. This includes:

2.4.1 maintaining a central private and confidential register of disclosures (see section 5 below);

2.4.2 supporting the Senior Management Group to manage any potential or declared conflicts of interest in their respective functional areas;

2.4.3 reviewing and ensuring that management of conflicts of interest for their respective areas complies with this Policy and  the Procedures;

2.4.4 seeking advice and support relating to the implementation of this Policy, where necessary from the Chief of Staff.

3. Types of Conflicts Of Interest

3.1  The Identification, management and monitoring of conflicts of interest are as per the Conflict of Interest Procedure.

3.2  Areas of High Risk. There are a number of areas of University activity that are deemed high risk. These include, but are not limited to:

  • procurement processes, tenders and contracts
  • gifts, hospitality and other benefits
  • staff recruitment, selection, appointment, re-classification, termination, tenure, promotion, performance management, staff development, conditions of service, recognition and reward
  • student recruitment, selection, admission to university and awarding of scholarships
  • allocating grants of public funds
  • issuing, or reviewing the issue of, fines or other sanctions
  • providing subsidies, financial assistance, concessions or other relief to those in need
  • making determinations or handing down judgement about individuals or disputes
  • assessment or supervision of students
  • exercising financial and other delegations
  • sponsorships to or from the University
  • private practice arrangements
  • all commercialisation activities (including collaborative research, licensing, patents, material transfer) including start-ups and spinouts
  • research activities, including disclosure to funding bodies and for individuals responsible for carrying out any part of an investigation of an allegation of research misconduct
  • providing ethical or other approval to researchers for intended projects
  • funding from commercial entities for educational activities, where the funder may exert undue influence on participants for current or future commercial gain.

3.3  Personal Relationships in the Workplace. It is important that personal relationships do not intrude or be perceived to intrude on or influence working practices and decisions. A sexual encounter or romantic relationship between a staff member and a student is never appropriate particularly where a direct professional relationship exists (ie between a PhD advisor and a candidate, or a lecturer and one of their students). The same applies for personal relationships between members of staff where a direct supervisory role exists.

3.4  The Staff and Student Codes of Conduct and the Bullying, Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy require that any sexual encounter or romantic relationship that creates a conflict of interest must be immediately declared, and alternative supervisory or study arrangements will be established.

3.5  Conflicts of Interest in Research. Compliance with both the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2018) (Australian Code) and the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007 updated 2018) (National Statement) is a condition of research funding from most bodies (including the ARC and NHMRC). The Australian Code and National Statement outline the responsibilities of institutions and researchers with regards to conflicts of interest. Staff and students are to comply with the Disclosure of Interest and Management of Conflicts of Interest Procedure which sits under the JCU Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (JCU Research Code).

3.6  Research or Teaching Commercialisation. A conflict of interest may arise when a researcher has a significant financial interest in a company that is also commercialising JCU intellectual property that has been developed by that researcher. These may be personal or research funds received through research contract, consultancy agreement, or provide access to JCU facilities and resources for the benefit of the company. A conflict may also arise where a staff member gains financial benefits as a direct result of their teaching role, such as a textbook or other resource used in a JCU course, or they receive a personal payment for tutoring a student enrolled in a course they teach.

3.7  Foreign Influence or Interference. Staff need to disclose any activity that may be registerable under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act as a perceived, potential or actual conflict of interest. Certain types of international collaborations, research and sensitive or critical infrastructure may be subject to additional controls and obligations under export control laws and national security provisions (including sanction regimes) to protect against Foreign Interference.

3.8  This undue influence or interference may occur in subtle or covert ways, therefore effective due diligence and transparency are important mitigating strategies. Where a foreign affiliation, relationship, or financial commitment could be perceived as a conflict of interest, this is to be declared. Conflict of interest management is to be included in research collaboration agreements with international partners. Declarations will be important in recruitment processes particularly in sensitive research areas where foreign interference is higher risk.

3.9  Staff External Professional Activities and Secondary Employment. Staff are required to be familiar and comply with the Staff External Professional Activities and Secondary Employment Procedure. Staff undertaking these activities are required to register their conflicts particularly where the work undertaken is using a staff member’s specialised skills but is otherwise not affiliated with JCU. This may include additional employment with academic institutions other than JCU, private practice (eg clinician, lawyer, engineer, IT or business professional), and Directorships. Secondary employment which does not utilise the specialised skills that JCU has employed a staff member for and is not associated with JCU in any way falls outside the definition of secondary employment and is not required to be declared, but may require declaration as part of an individual’s employment contract.

3.10 Conflicts of Commitment. Conflicts of commitment often involve issues of time allocation and are situations where an individual engages in outside professional activities, either paid or unpaid, that may interfere with their primary obligation and commitments to the University. Whenever an individual's outside professional activities as defined in the Staff External Professional Activities and Secondary Employment Procedure might impinge on the effective discharge of their JCU duties (eg time commitment), or whenever a staff member’s primary professional loyalty is not to the University, a conflict of commitment exists. If a situation arises that raises questions about a possible conflict of commitment, staff must discuss this with their Manager/Supervisor.

4. Registering Conflicts Of Interest for Senior Management

4.1  At JCU, the Senior Management Group and roles at higher risk of encountering conflicts (including procurement or HR) are required to register their pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests on commencement of employment, and this is reviewed annually in accordance with the Declaration of Interest – Senior Management and Specified Staff Procedure.

4.2  The purpose of the declaration is to ensure that the Vice Chancellor is aware of any private interests or relationships of in leadership or other sensitive positions which could or could be seen to influence the decisions the Senior Management Group are taking or the advice they are giving. These could include personal interests and relationships that could involve real or potential conflicts of interest in terms of the Senior Manager’s responsibilities.

4.3  The completion of a declaration of interests also provides Senior Management or specific staff with the opportunity to consider whether any of their financial or personal interests might give rise to a real or perceived conflict with their duties and take action to remove or minimise the potential for that to occur. The registration or declaration of conflicts of interest does not in itself necessarily resolve any conflict. Additional measures to positively resolve or manage conflicts of interest should also be considered.

4.4  This is also a requirement of members of Council (as per the Conflicts of Interest – University Council Policy).

5. Conflicts of Interest Registers

5.1  The University maintains four Conflict of Interest Registers: Corporate Governance, Finance, Research Commercialisation and Human Resources Conflict of Interest Registers are maintained by the following:

5.1.1 Chief of Staff: for conflicts arising from Senior Management and Specified Staff declarations.

5.1.2 Chief Financial Officer (or delegate): for conflicts arising from any aspect of procurement, supplier management or budgeting for example.

5.1.3 Director JCU Connect (or delegate): for conflicts arising in ethics, research commercialisation or research grant processes.

5.1.4 Director HR (or delegate): for conflicts arising in recruitment, promotion, relationships between staff or between staff and students, supervision and performance management, and secondary employment.

5.2  As a form of internal control, the Conflict of Interest Registers and the application and understanding of this Policy and Procedures are subject to internal audit processes. A template for the Register can be found in the Conflict of Interest procedure.

6. Failure to Declare a Conflict of Interest

6.1  Staff have an obligation to declare and manage conflicts of interest. Failing to comply with the provision of this Policy and Procedures, including refusal to take any reasonable action as directed to resolve a conflict of interest may constitute misconduct or serious misconduct, which may result in disciplinary action or termination of employment.

6.2  Breaches of this Policy and Procedures may also result in referral to, and action being taken by, an external statutory authority and/or agency including the Crime and Corruption Commission.

7. Privacy and Confidentiality

7.1  Information arising from conflict of interest declarations will be managed in accordance with the Information Privacy Policy.

7.2  Information held may be used for University purposes including audit, reporting, compliance monitoring and other purposes required by government or legislation.

Related documents and legislation

Conflict of Interest Procedure (new)

Declaration of Interest – Senior Management and Specified Staff Procedure (new)

Reportable Gifts and Donations Procedure (replacing the Reportable Gifts Policy)

Staff External Professional Activities and Secondary Employment Procedure (replacing the Statement on Staff External Activities – Existing Policy)

Staff Code of Conduct and Explanatory Statement

Code of Conduct - University Council and Explanatory Statement

Conflict of Interests – University Council

Risk Management Policy

Risk Management Framework

Information Privacy Policy

Public Interest Disclosure Procedure

JCU Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

Disclosure of Interest and Management of Conflicts of Interest Procedure

Managing Conflicts in the Public Sector Guidelines

Crime and Corruption Act 2001

Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010

Public Sector Ethics Act 1994

Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018

Administration

Approval Details

Policy Sponsor/s

DVC Services and Resources

Approval Authority

Human Resources Committee

Date for next review

October 2022

Revision History

Version

Approval date

Implementation date

Details

Author

20-1

29/10/2020

06/11/2020

Policy established.

Chief of Staff

Keywords

Conflict of Interest, conflict of commitment; actual; perceived; potential

Contact person

Chief of Staff