Public duty and private interest: report of the Committee of Inquiry established by the Prime Minister on 15 February 1978

Public sector Local government Australia
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This was the first report to set out the principles that underpin public servants' and politicians' obligations to disclose and manage conflicts of interest.

Tabled in 1979, this is the first time a digitised version of this report, known as the 'Bowen report', has been made publically available.

The intention to establish this inquiry was announced in a press statement issued by the then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser on 16 December 1977. The statement mentioned the difficult position in which a Prime Minister finds himself when he is called upon to pass judgment on colleagues with whom he has worked closely, particularly as the Prime Minister must act as a judge and jury when allegations of impropriety are raised.

Fraser expressed his disatisfaction with a previous inquiry on the topic, conducted by a Parliamentary committee. He stated that he would instead he would appoint a judge or Queen's Counsel, to be assisted by a businessman and an accountant, to carry out a new inquiry.

On 15 February 1978 Fraser stated that the new inquiry would be conducted by the Chief Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, the Hon. Sir Nigel Bowen, K.B.E., as well as Sir Cecil Looker, and Sir Edward Cain, C.B.E.

The terms of reference were:

1. To recommend whether a statement of principles can be drawn up on the nature of private interests, pecuniary or otherwise, which could conflict with the public duty of any or all persons holding positions of public trust in relation to the Commonwealth.

2. To recommend whether principles can be defined which would promote the avoidance and if necessary the resolution of any conflicts of interest which the Inquiry may, under paragraph (1) above, find to be possible.

3. In the event of a finding under paragraph (2) above that principles can be defined, to recommend what those principles should be.

4. Without limiting the scope of paragraph (3) above, to recommend whether or not a register under judicial or other supervision should be maintained so that, in the event of allegations of impropriety, the allegation may be open to judicial investigation and report.

5. For the purposes of paragraph(1) above, 'persons holding positions of public trust in relation to the Commonwealth' to include the following:
(a) Ministers;
(b) Senators and Members of the House of Representatives;
(c) Staff of (a) and (b);
(d) Members of the Australian Public Service; and
(e) Such other persons or classes of persons which in the opinion of the Committee ought to be included.

This is the final report of the inquiry, which has helped shaped the conduct of the public service to this day.


Part of the Policy History Collection. Digitisation of this report has been supported by the National Library of Australia.

Reproduced with permission of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

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