Individuals carrying out senior leadership functions exercise key decision-making powers, are accountable for their entity's integrity framework and have a significant impact on culture. The function of the Senior Executive Service (SES) is to provide leadership of the highest quality that contributes to an effective and cohesive Australian Public Service (APS).[1]

Good public administration protects against fraud and corruption. Agency culture is a key control measure, shaped by a consistent ‘tone from the top’ (which means the messages and the example set by senior leaders in their decisions and their treatment of staff).  

SES have a critical role in promoting a strong integrity culture and addressing corruption risks within their agencies. Senior leaders can ensure that integrity functions are adequately resourced within their agency and that integrity standards are upheld and exemplified by and among staff.

There are a number of integrity rules that SES need to follow as part of their employment obligations. These rules, combined with their respective agency’s policies, procedures and frameworks, are crucial to holding SES accountable for their behaviour and for the implementation of an effective integrity framework within their agency.

Section 35 of the Public Service Act 1999 (Cth) sets out specific requirements that must be met by SES employees in the APS. Paragraph 35(3)(c) requires that each SES employee ‘by personal example and other appropriate means, promotes the APS Values, the APS Employment Principles and compliance with the Code of Conduct.’ 

The Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2022 (2022 Directions) require agency heads to consult with the APS Commissioner on suspected breaches of the APS Code of Conduct by SES employees. This includes the process for determining whether the employee has breached the APS Code of Conduct and sanctions that are being considered.[2]

Consistent with s.35 of the PS Act, SES employees are also expected to uphold and promote their agency’s specific frameworks, policies and procedures, including by personal example.

All SES roles are characterised by a high level of accountability for outcomes, which are reflected in the APS Work Level Standards. As part of their role, SES must meet the work level standards of their classification and maintain their level in terms of span of control, the degree of difficulty of stakeholder management responsibilities, the complexity and ambiguity of the job context and environment, the impact of judgements made and the independence with which roles operate.[3]

The Secretaries’ Charter of Leadership Behaviours sets out the behaviours Secretaries expect of themselves and SES, and want to see in leaders at all levels of the APS. The Charter focuses on behaviours that support modern systems leadership within the construct of the APS Values and Code of Conduct. A key component of this charter is for senior leaders to have integrity, which is demonstrated by:

  • being open, honest and Accountable
  • taking responsibility for what happens around them
  • having courage to call out unacceptable behaviour.


1 Subsection 35(2) of the Public Service Act 1999.

2 Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2022 and Circular 2022/2: Commencement of the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions.

3 Australian Public Service Commission, SES Evaluation Methodology, Guidelines and Workbook (2013).