1.5.5 The steps in determining bias or conflict of interest
It is critical to declare an actual or perceived conflict of interest and then to determine whether to continue participating. You should follow these steps to make that decision:
- Identify – determine what your potential conflict of interest is.
- Disclose – ensure that you let the appropriate staff know what the conflict is (actual or apparent) and decide what to do.
- Assess – make a decision. Would a reasonably informed observer feel it was appropriate for me to be involved in this application?
- Manage – if you feel that participating is unreasonable, ensure that this is recorded in a file note and communicated to staff.
These steps are outlined in more detail below.
Identify conflicts of interest
The key question you must address is: could your duties or responsibilities to the DLC be affected by some other interest or duty that you have? It is important to focus on the overlap between the two interests – that is, whether your other interest has something to do with the particular matter that is being considered or carried out by the DLC.
It is better to err on the side of openness when deciding whether something should be disclosed. Many situations are not clear-cut. If you are uncertain about whether or not something constitutes a conflict of interest, it is safer and more transparent to disclose the interest. The matter is then out in the open and others can help you assess whether the situation constitutes a conflict of interest. Disclosure promotes transparency and is always better than the member trying to manage the situation by themselves.
Disclose conflicts of interest
You need to disclose any potential conflict of interest to the chair of the DLC before the hearing starts or as soon as is reasonably practicable once you become aware of it. If the chair has any potential conflict of interest, they should disclose this to the secretary.
Assess conflicts of interest
Several factors may need to be weighed in assessing the seriousness of the real or perceived conflict of interest. They include the:
- type or size of your other interest
- nature or significance of the particular decision under consideration
- extent to which your other interest could specifically affect, or be affected by, the DLC’s decision or activity
- nature or extent of your current or intended involvement in the DLC’s decision or activity.
Consider whether a reasonably informed observer would feel it was appropriate for you to be involved in this application.
Manage conflicts of interest
It is better to err on the side of caution when managing conflicts of interest. If there is a perception of a conflict, remaining on the DLC could open the way for an appeal in the future; it is better to stand down.
The ‘conflicted’ person must disclose the issue to either the chair or the secretary with a stance of either “I feel I am conflicted and will stand down” or “I do not feel this issue is a conflict and I consider I can remain on the committee”.
If, after a thorough analysis, the chair believes there is a conflict, he or she should instruct the secretary to appoint another member. If it is in the ‘grey’ area, the member can make the disclosure at the start of the hearing and invite the applicant to agree or otherwise that a conflict exists.
It is wise to keep a written record of any decision. This might include details of the facts, who undertook the assessment and how, and what action was taken as a result. The chair should do this. For example, the chair would write in the decision that “John Brown, member, declared that he owned the café seeking the licence today approximately 10 years ago. His involvement in the hearing was not challenged by any of the parties”.
If the chair (when a member has a conflict of interest) or the secretary (when the chair has a conflict of interest) judges that a situation does not amount to a conflict of interest, or is too indirect or insignificant, they may formally record the disclosure and assessment, but take no further action.