About Sustainability Victoria

Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy

1. Scope

This policy sets out Sustainability Victoria’s standards and procedures for responding to gift offers, providing gifts, travel and hospitality, and incurring travel and out-of-pocket expenses. The policy applies to all Board members and Sustainability Victoria employees, contractors, volunteers and temporary staff (Employees) at all times in the performance of their duties.

2. Aim

The aim of this policy is to minimise gift offers made to, and accepted by, Board members and Employees. This helps to protect and promote public confidence in the integrity of Sustainability Victoria. Gift offers are discouraged and must never be accepted unless there is clear justification, consistent with the prohibitions in this policy, to do so.

3. Key principles and accountabilities

  • Obligations: the Board and Employees act in accordance with their respective obligations and with good governance practice (see item 17).
  • Public interest: Board members and Employees act in the public interest, in compliance with this policy.
  • Culture of integrity: Sustainability Victoria fosters a culture of integrity. Board members and Employees are supported to raise any unresolved gift issues.
  • Risk-based: Sustainability Victoria’s risks in relation to gift offers are assessed, managed, and monitored.
  • Processes: Sustainability Victoria’s procedures are transparent and accountable. Processes are in place to ensure that Board members and Employees are aware of the requirements of this policy and how to comply with it.

Consistent with DELWP model policy

Sustainability Victoria’s policy is consistent with the DELWP model policy on Gifts, benefits and hospitality – responding to gift offers, which is published by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). 1

Accountabilities

Board members and Employees are responsible for ensuring that their own conduct meets the required standards of integrity. They place the public interest above their own interests when carrying out their official duties. This includes declaring all gift offers in accordance with this policy and refusing prohibited gifts (item 5).

The Chairperson, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Employees with direct reports are responsible for being aware of, and monitoring, the risks inherent in their team’s work and functions. They model good practice and promote awareness of this policy and related processes.

4. Definitions

4.1 Gift offer

A gift offer is anything of monetary or other value that is offered by an external source (organisation or individual) to a Board member or Employee as a result of their role with Sustainability Victoria. It includes free/discounted:

  • items or service, for example, items such as a Christmas hamper, desk calendar, box of chocolates, bottle of wine, commemorative object, or ‘door prize’ at a function; services such as tree-lopping or house painting.
  • benefits such as preferential treatment, privileged access, favours or other advantages or intangible benefits for example, access to a discount or loyalty program, or the promise of a new job.
  • hospitality that exceeds common courtesy. ‘Hospitality’ is the friendly reception and treatment of guests. It includes offers of food, drink, travel, accommodation, events or activities (e.g. sporting, social, industry, arts, entertainment, or other events/activities). ‘Common courtesy’ is polite, basic and modest. It does not raise a conflict of interest. Whether an offer exceeds common courtesy depends on the circumstances (i.e. what is offered, by whom, to whom, when and why).

Example – does not exceed common courtesy

The following offers do not exceed common courtesy. They are not a gift offer and do not need to be disclosed under this policy:

  • a cup of coffee at another organisation’s premises;
  • a modest working lunch, such as sandwiches and pastries, at another organisation’s premises;
  • a cup of coffee at a café (unless there is a conflict of interest).2

Example – gift offer

The following offers exceed common courtesy. They are a gift offer and must be disclosed under this policy:

  • a ‘fine dining and wines’ working lunch at another organisation’s premises;
  • an offer to pay for a working lunch at a café
  • an offer of a free spot at an industry golf day.3

Direct or indirect

A gift offer may be direct or indirect. It may be offered directly to a Board member or Employee or indirectly via an offer to their relative or close associate, including:

  • a member of their immediate family (e.g. spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, sibling);
  • a regular member of their household (whether or not they are related); or
  • another close associate (e.g. friend, business associate, other relative).

Is the gift offer ‘token’ or ‘reportable’

A gift offer that is made by an external source is either token or reportable:

  • Token – the gift offer is trivial and inconsequential. The combined total of offers to the Board member or Employee from that source in the last 12 months does not exceed $50.
  • Reportable – the gift offer exceeds the token value OR is of cultural, historic or other significance.

Example – exceeds token value

If a Board member or Employee is offered a $20 bottle of wine three times by the same source in 12 months, the third offer makes a cumulative total of $60. This exceeds the $50 threshold. The third offer is therefore reportable, even if none of the offers are accepted. What counts is the total offered in the last 12 months.

Example – other significance

A gift offered by a visiting delegation, such as a delegation from another country, is reportable, regardless of its monetary value. Even if it is not of cultural or historic significance, it is of ‘other’ significance.

4.2 Conflict of interest

A ‘conflict of interest’ is a conflict between a Board member’s or Employee’s public duty to act in the best interests of the agency and their private interests (financial or non-financial). A conflict exists whether it is:

  • real – it currently exists;
  • potential – it may arise, given the circumstances; or
  • perceived – members of the public could reasonably form the view that a conflict exists, or could arise, that may improperly influence the person’s performance of their duty to the agency, now or in the future.

4.3 Bribe

A ‘bribe’ is an offer of money or other inducement made with the intention to corruptly influence a Board member or Employee in the performance of their duties. Bribery or attempted bribery of a public official is a criminal offence.4

4.4 Legitimate business reason (benefit)

A ‘legitimate business reason’ is a business purpose that furthers the official business or other legitimate goals of Sustainability Victoria, the public sector, or state.

4.5 Responsible person

The ‘responsible person’ is the person who the Board member or Employee notifies of gift offers they receive, notifies of any suspected bribery attempts; and seeks advice from about this policy and how to comply.

Responsible person

Employee

Manager

Board member or CEO

Chairperson

Chairperson

Deputy Chairperson
Where appropriate, the Chairperson should also seek advice from the Minister and/or DELWP.

5. Prohibited gifts

A Board member or Employee must refuse any gift offer that:

  • is money or is similar to money (e.g. gift vouchers) or easily converted into money (e.g. shares);
  • is a conflict of interest (real, potential or perceived) - e.g. is offered by an external source with an interest in a decision that the Board member or Employee is likely to make or can influence, including in relation to:
  • could create a reasonable perception that it is offered to influence, or could influence, the judgement of the Board member or Employee (i.e. how they act, or fail to act, now or in the future);
  • is inconsistent with community expectations; or
  • could in any other way bring their integrity and impartiality, or that of Sustainability Victoria, into disrepute.

If it is a reportable gift offer (item 9), it must also be refused unless there is a ‘legitimate business reason’ to accept it.

5.1 Gift offers of hospitality

To ensure compliance with the above requirements, Board members and Employees must be particularly cautious about accepting gift offers of hospitality (i.e. food, drink, travel, accommodation, events or activities). Gift offers of hospitality are often inconsistent with community expectations. There is also a high risk of conflict of interest. In such cases, the gift offer must be refused even if there is a legitimate business reason to accept.

In particular, note that:

  • High risk events and activities
    Invitations to attend or participate in a sporting, social, ‘industry’, arts, entertainment, or other event or activity are high risk. Examples of gift offers that must be refused include:
    • attending as a guest in a corporate box at the football or at a car or horse racing event;
    • attending a concert or theatre event;
    • attending an industry golf day or play golf at a reduced fee;
    • being ‘shouted’ a meal at a restaurant; or
    • accepting complimentary or discounted tickets for a family member to attend the tennis.
  • Conferences and familiarisation tours
    Gift offers in relation to conferences or familiarisation tours (e.g. sponsored attendance, participation, travel, or accommodation) must be declined unless there is:
    • clear justification, such as where the invitation is issued by a government department, or the event is funded by DELWP, or, depending on the circumstances, the offeror is a peak body; and
    • prior written approval that sets out clear reasons is specifically granted by the CEO (for Employees) or the responsible person (for the Chairperson, Board members, and CEO). The signed and dated approval must be attached to the gift offer declaration form (item 10) and noted in the gifts register (item 11).

5.2 Recording prohibited gift offers

To assist Sustainability Victoria to monitor the frequency and nature of prohibited gift offers, it is essential that all such offers are disclosed in accordance with the requirements for token (item 8) or reportable (item 9) gift offers.

5.3 Misuse of position

Accepting a prohibited gift offer may constitute misuse of a Board member’s or Employee’s position, a breach of this policy and/or a breach of the relevant code of conduct, and may result in disciplinary action. In addition, if the gift was offered with the expectation of something in return, such as preferential treatment, accepting it may constitute a bribe (item 6) or other form of corruption and lead to criminal prosecution.

6. Attempts to bribe

A Board member or Employee who receives a gift offer that they believe is an attempted bribe must refuse the offer. They must:

  • immediately notify the responsible person and lodge a gift offer declaration form (item 10), so that their refusal can be recorded; or
  • report the matter to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) as a protected disclosure.

A Board member or Employee who believes that another Board member or Employee may have solicited or been offered a bribe which the other person has not reported must either notify the responsible person or report the matter to IBAC as a protected disclosure.

The CEO has approved a process to ensure that he or she is notified when a responsible person becomes aware of a bribery issue. In addition, the Fraud and Corruption Control Plan provides for this. The CEO must notify IBAC of any matter which he/she believes on reasonable grounds may be corrupt conduct or, if appropriate, notify the police of a suspected offence.

7. Ban on soliciting gifts

Board members and Employees must not solicit gifts for themselves or anyone else, in any form. To do so may constitute misuse of their position, a breach of this policy and/or a breach of the relevant code of conduct and may result in disciplinary action. It may also constitute corruption and lead to criminal prosecution.

8. Token gift offers

A Board member or Employee who is offered a gift of token value (as defined in item 4.1) that is not a prohibited gift (item 5) may:

  • refuse the gift offer; or
  • accept the gift offer and retain the gift as their own.

Disclosing token gift offers

Regardless of whether a token gift offer is accepted it must be disclosed as soon as practicable to the responsible person. The Board member or Employee who receives the offer must send an email to the responsible person that sets out:

  • the date of the offer;
  • the source (organisation or individual) of the offer;
  • what was offered and why;
  • that it was a token offer, including an estimate of:
  • whether it was a prohibited gift (item 5) and, if so, why; and
  • whether the offer was accepted or refused.

A gift offer declaration form (item 10) does not need to be completed. Nor does the gifts register (item 11).

Example – acceptance of token gift

‘On 16 July 2017, l received a gift offer from Berringer and Co. of a bottle of wine. It was offered to me as a thank you for presenting at their annual education forum, which I did as part of my official duties. I estimate the value of the bottle of wine to be $30. I estimate the combined total of gift offers l have received from this source in the last 12 months to be $45. I consider this to be a token gift offer. It was not a prohibited gift offer. I accepted the offer.’

Example – refusal of token gift

‘On 13 December 2017, l received a gift offer from Murks and Co. of a desk calendar. It was offered as ‘a Christmas good will gift’. I estimate the value of the desk calendar to be $20. I estimate the combined total of gift offers l have received from this source in the last 12 months to be $45. It was a prohibited gift as it is a conflict of interest - Murks is a prospective tenderer about whom l am likely to make or can influence a decision. I refused the offer and explained why to the rep.’

Keeping track of token gift offers

The Board member or Employee disclosing the token gift offer and the responsible person must each retain a copy of the email. An email record:

  • assists the Board member/Employee to fulfil their responsibility to keep track of whether offers made to them by that source exceed a combined value of $50 in the last 12 months (i.e. the reportable threshold); and
  • assists the responsible person to monitor the risks inherent in their team’s work and functions.

9. Reportable gift offers

A Board member or Employee who is offered a reportable gift (as defined in item 4.1) must, regardless of whether the gift offer is accepted:

  • verbally disclose the offer to the responsible person as soon as practicable; and
  • within five working days of the offer, sign and lodge a properly completed gift offer declaration form (item 10).

A gift offer must not be accepted if it is a prohibited gift (item 5).

9.1 Ownership of reportable gifts

A Board member or Employee who accepts a reportable gift is doing so on behalf of Sustainability Victoria. Sustainability Victoria is the owner of the gift.

9.2 Dealing with accepted gifts

The CEO has approved a process for the receipt and use or disposal of reportable gifts by Sustainability Victoria. As part of these processes:

  • Gifts of cultural, historic or other significance
    Consideration should be given to donating gifts of cultural, historic or other significance to an appropriate public institution, such as the Melbourne Museum, State Library or the National Gallery of Victoria.
  • Donating other reportable gifts
    Consideration should be given to donating other reportable gifts, or the proceeds of their sale, to a non-profit organisation or public institution.
  • ‘Public interest’ approval for use of gift by Board member or Employee

    Occasionally, it will be in the public interest for approval to be given for a Board member or Employee to use a reportable gift ‘as their own’ at the behest of Sustainability Victoria.

    Applications for ‘public interest approval’ will be determined by the Board (for Board members and the CEO) or the CEO (for Employees) in accordance with the following criteria:

    • approval is required to avoid the person being in breach of this policy through no fault of their own; or
    • prior written approval has been granted, in accordance with item 5.1 of this policy, for sponsored hospitality to be accepted in relation to a conference or familiarisation tour.

    The reason(s) for any public interest approval that is granted must be well documented, attached to the gift offer declaration form, and recorded in the gifts register.  

10. Gift offer declaration form

The gift offer declaration form is set out in Addendum 1 of this policy. The CEO has approved a process for the lodging and processing of gift offer declaration forms.

11. Gifts Register

A Register of responses to reportable gift offers (‘gifts register’) must be maintained by the Chief Financial Officer that includes a record of:

  • all reportable gift offers and responses (based on completed gift offer declaration forms); and
  • if the gift offer was accepted, how the gift will be used or disposed of by Sustainability Victoria.

The gifts register template is set out in Addendum 2.

The CEO has approved a process for ensuring that the register is up-to-date; is protected from unauthorised changes; and is published on Sustainability Victoria’s external website (see item 11.1). This includes designating Employee position(s) whose occupant(s) manage these functions.

In addition:

  • Employees

    The CEO must ensure that Employees are provided with regular reminders of the need to lodge gift offer declaration forms (see item 14.2).

  • Board members

    At the start of each Board meeting, the Chairperson must ask all Board members present to state whether their entries in the gifts register are complete and correct. If there are no changes, the minutes will note that:

    ‘All Board members present confirmed that their entries in the Register of responses to reportable gift offers are complete and correct’.

    If changes are declared, these will be noted in the minutes, together with the Board member’s undertaking to lodge a gift offer declaration form (item 10) within five working days.

11.1 Publishing of gifts register on external website

A copy of the gifts register that complies with privacy obligations (see next item) must be published on Sustainability Victoria’s external website. It should be updated at least every six months. Entries should remain on the website for at least the current and previous financial year.

12. Privacy protection

The CEO has approved a process to ensure that Sustainability Victoria complies with the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 when collecting, using, and disclosing personal information in relation to gift offers (token and reportable). This includes ensuring that:

  • identifying information is deleted from the copy of the gifts register that is published on Sustainability Victoria’s external website, as set out in Addendum 2; and
  • a Privacy collection statement - gift offers is published on the website that is consistent with the template statement issued by DELWP.

13. Monitoring compliance

The administration and quality control of Sustainability Victoria’s policy and processes, including the gifts register and gift offer declaration forms, must be subject to regular scrutiny.

Annual report by CEO to Audit, Risk & Finance Committee

The CEO must provide a report at least annually to the Audit, Risk & Finance Committee that includes the matters set out in Addendum 3 in relation to:

  • risk analysis;
  • steps taken to improve compliance; and
  • recommendations for improvement.

Annual report by Audit, Risk & Finance Committee to Board

The Audit, Risk & Finance Committee must submit a report at least annually to the Board that takes into account the CEO’s report and includes any other information or recommendations that the Audit , Risk & Finance Committee chooses to include.

14. Providing gifts, benefits or hospitality

Gifts, benefits and hospitality may be provided to welcome guests, facilitate the development of business relationships, further Sustainability Victoria’s business outcomes and to celebrate achievements.

When deciding whether to provide gifts, benefits or hospitality or the type of gift, benefit or hospitality to provide, ensure that:

  • any gift, benefit or hospitality is provided for a business reason in that it furthers the conduct of official business or other legitimate organisational goals, or promotes and supports Sustainability Victoria’s objectives and priorities;
  • that any costs are proportionate to the benefits obtained for Sustainability Victoria, and would be considered reasonable in terms of community expectations; and
  • it does not raise an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest.

Containing costs

Costs involved in the provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality should be contained wherever possible. The following questions may be useful to assist individuals to decide the type of gift, benefit or hospitality to provide:

  • Will the cost of providing the gift, benefit or hospitality be proportionate to the potential benefits?
  • Is an external venue necessary or does Sustainability Victoria have facilities to host the event?
  • Is the proposed catering or hospitality proportionate to the number of attendees?
  • Does the size of the event and number of attendees align with intended outcomes?
  • Will providing the gift, benefit or hospitality be viewed by the public as excessive?

Further to these requirements:

Providing gifts

a) Gifts to external individuals or organisations will normally be symbolic, rather than financial, in value.

b) Gifts to Board members or Employees (e.g. to recognise significant work achievements or service milestones) will be token. Personal celebrations (e.g. birthdays, marriages, birth of a child) will not be funded using public monies.

Providing hospitality (hosting)

a) It will not usually be in the public interest for alcohol to be consumed at Board meetings or at meetings between Employees and/or Board members.

b) A Board member or Employee who extends or receives hospitality will demonstrate professional conduct at all times and will uphold his/her obligation to extend a duty of care to other participants.

c) The requirements apply to both:

  • official hospitality – hosting official guests (e.g. community representatives, people from the private or academic sector); and
  • internal (general) hospitality – hosting functions, often in the workplace, for members of the Victorian public sector, (e.g. Board meetings, staff meetings, lunch at a workshop, a retirement function for a long standing staff member, a celebration to mark a major work milestone).

Gifts and hospitality provided to external guests

a) Catering for stakeholder functions will be kept to appropriate levels and proportionate to the significance of the event while minimising food waste. As a guide and in accordance with public expectations of modesty, cost of meals for stakeholder functions should be kept to under $40 per person.

b) Catering for stakeholder functions will be restricted to events over three hours or events where a meal is the focus of the event e.g. breakfast, lunch or dinner.

c) Entertainment and catering is charged to the relevant project code and approved by the relevant financial delegate.

Catered functions for staff

a) Catering for staff functions will be kept to appropriate levels and proportionate to the significance of the event while minimising food waste. As a guide and in accordance with public expectations of modesty, cost of meals for staff functions should be kept to under $40 per person.

b) Other than in exceptional circumstances, reimbursement will not be paid for alcoholic beverages at staff only functions. Directors will approve such reimbursement.

c) Except in exceptional circumstances or for workshops that exceed four hours, there will be no internal catering for staff only meetings, workshops or other events.

d) Entertainment and catering is charged to the relevant project code and approved by the relevant financial delegate.

Providing meals to individual staff

a) In accordance with the VPS Workplace Determination, reasonable meals and other incidental expenses associated with an overnight absence from home or significant day duties away from the normal work location will be reimbursed.

b) These will be charged to the relevant project code and approved in accordance with the Travel Policy.

Incurring travel and out-of-pocket expenses

A Board member or Employee will only incur travel or out-of-pocket expenses if it is clearly in the public interest to do so, that is, if there is a legitimate business reason (as defined in item 4.4) that is consistent with:

15. Promoting and improving compliance

To promote and improve compliance with this policy:

15.1 Business rules

The CEO must have suitable business rules, processes, and record-keeping requirements in place for the practical implementation of this policy.

15.2 Induction and refresher training – Board members and Employees

The Chairperson (for Board members and the CEO) and the CEO (for Employees) must ensure that all Board members and Employees receive induction training and annual refresher training, including:

  • information about the aim, principles, accountabilities and requirements of this policy;
  • practical guidance on how to comply with it (e.g. where to obtain gift offer declaration forms, how to refuse a gift without giving offence, etc.); and
  • advice that a breach of this policy may constitute a breach of a binding code of conduct and may result in disciplinary action and, in the case of corrupt conduct, criminal prosecution.

A copy of Sustainability Victoria’s policy and related practical guidance must be provided to each Board member and Employee when they commence their term of appointment/ employment. Updates to the policy and related guidance must be provided as soon as practicable after they occur.

Summary flow chart

To assist Employees and Board members, a flowchart of how to respond to gift offers is set out in Addendum 4.

15.3 Gifts hub – Board members and Employees

The CEO has designated the General Counsel or equivalent to manage (or act as) a ‘Gifts hub’ to provide responsible persons and other Board members and Employees with a central point from which to obtain expert advice and guidance materials.

15.4 Contracts for contractors and consultants

All contracts for ‘in house’ contractors and consultants (including those engaged through an employment agency) must explicitly state that the contractor or consultant is bound by this policy and by the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees.

15.5 External stakeholders (tenderers, suppliers, external contractors, etc.)

All contracts for suppliers and external contractors (external stakeholders) must ensure that the contract can be revoked (or renegotiated) by Sustainability Victoria if the external stakeholder offers a prohibited gift to a Board member or Employee. The CEO has approved a process to ensure that external stakeholders have ready access to information that explains the prohibitions and restrictions in this policy. This includes ensuring that:

  • an up-to-date copy of this policy is published on Sustainability Victoria’s external website; and
  • suitable guidance material is:

15.6 Remedial action

The CEO has approved a process to ensure that patterns of frequent or prohibited gift offers are identified and, where appropriate, remedial action is taken - e.g. a letter is sent to the source of the offers explaining why such offers must not be made.

16. Culture of integrity

It is essential that Board members, Employees, and external stakeholders are supported to raise queries and issues about gift offers, including queries and issues relating to their own conduct or that of others.

Assistance with making decisions A Board member or Employee who is uncertain how to comply with this policy should seek advice from their responsible person. They can also seek advice from the Gifts hub (item 15.3). This does not abrogate their responsibility to make the right decision.

Possible breach of this policy

A Board member or Employee who may have breached this policy must immediately notify the responsible person and remedy any breach.

Speaking up

A Board member or Employee who believes that another Board member/Employee may have breached this policy must:

  • approach the other person, to give them the opportunity to notify the responsible person and remedy any breach; or
  • notify the responsible person directly.

If the matter involves corruption or serious misconduct, the Board member or Employee can choose to instead report the matter to IBAC as a protected disclosure.

Decisive action, including possible disciplinary action, will be taken against any Board member or Employee who discriminates against or victimises a person who speaks up in good faith about a possible breach of this policy.

17. Obligations and good practice

Board members and employees must act in accordance with their respective obligations and with good public sector governance practice, including:

18. Regular review of this policy

The Board will review this policy on an annual basis or more frequently, if required, to keep up-to-date with changes to laws, government policy, etc. This policy will be consistent with the most recent version of the DELWP model policy. This policy was last reviewed in May 2017.

19. Related Policies

  • Conflict of Interest
  • Meetings and decisions
  • Code of Conduct.

20. Further information

For further information, see the Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality support module in the Governance guides and resources section of DELWP’s governance website, On Board (www.delwp.vic.gov.au/onboard). It includes the DELWP model polices and DELWP guidance notes, plus direct links to this topic on the VPSC website.