Ethics and Probity in Procurement


Probity decisions should be:

  • Helpful: Probity should be used to facilitate discussion of current approaches to market with suppliers in order to promote genuine engagement,
  • Inclusive: Probity processes should be designed to enable innovative approaches to be adopted if required.
  • Tailored: Probity roles can be tailored to the business need and range from using internal expertise through to engaging external specialist advice.
  • Sensible: Each individual process may require a different approach; one size will not fit all.

Probity is the evidence of ethical behaviour, and can be defined as complete and confirmed integrity, uprightness and honesty in a particular process.

1. The principles underpinning ethics and probity in Australian Government Procurement are:

    • Officials must act ethically, in accordance with the APS Values (set out in section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999) and Code of Conduct (set out in section 13 of the Public Service Act 1999), at all times in undertaking procurement.
    • Officials must not make improper use of their position. 
    • Officials should avoid placing themselves in a position where there is the potential for claims of bias.
    • Officials must not accept hospitality, gifts or benefits from any potential suppliers.
    • Agencies must not seek to benefit from supplier practices that may be dishonest, unethical or unsafe.
    • All tenderers must be treated equitably.  This means that all tenderers must be treated fairly - it does not necessarily mean that they are treated equally.
    • Conflicts of interest must be managed appropriately.
    • Probity and conflict of interest requirements should be applied with appropriate and proportionate measures informed by sound risk management principles.
    • Value for money outcomes are best served by effective probity measures that do not exclude suppliers from consideration for inconsequential reasons. 
    • Confidential information must be treated appropriately during and after a procurement process.
    • External probity specialists should only be appointed where justified by the nature of the procurement.

2. Mechanisms for assuring probity should be applied sensibly in procurement processes, with the management of probity issues tailored to each individual process.

3. Importantly, probity should not be used to justify avoiding reasonable discussion with potential suppliers during a tender. Officials are able to discuss current tenders in the market with potential suppliers. The level of detail and formality in providing information should be appropriate to the risk of the procurement. The procurement's level of risk will inform how officials engage with potential suppliers:  

    • For lower risk (typically low cost and complexity procurements run via limited tender), in line with the probity principles above, officials can discuss the procurement. This process can reasonably be dealt with by the tender contact officer with limited requirements for formalised or rigid probity processes. Information can be discussed in a meeting or over the telephone, or where necessary, via written correspondence (e.g. email). Any information provided to the potential supplier that would be useful for other potential suppliers should be de-identified and provided to them also.
    • For higher risk (typically higher cost and complexity procurements run via open tender), it is appropriate to implement more rigor in dealing with suppliers. This may include formalised approaches to handling requests from suppliers, specified probity roles and utilising additional expertise where necessary.

Last updated: 03 January 2019