In the scandal over Scott Morrison's multiple ministerial appointments, the spotlight naturally fell on the actions of the former prime minister himself. But the APS has not emerged unscathed, with questions asked about the part played by public servants in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the office of the official secretary to the governor-general. The episode raises the general issue of the public service's function as guardian of constitutional propriety and due process. It is a reminder that recent concerns about falling standards of government integrity have involved the failings of public officials as well as those of ministers. For the most part, the public service's commitment to proper process is uncontroversial. In a democratic and law-abiding country, we all expect our dealings with government officials to be handled legally and fairly. We may sometimes complain about bureaucratic rigidity but we certainly prefer a rule-bound system of government to one where access to services depends on who you know or how much you pay in bribes. Problems can arise, however, when the public service's commitment to due process comes up against the democratic authority of elected ministers. Generally speaking, on matters of policy, public servants are obliged to accept the direction of ministers. Such responsiveness still leaves room for critical disagreement but within the framework of the government's political values and policy goals and with the purpose of assisting ministers to better achieve their objectives. Matters of administrative process, however, are significantly different. Here public servants can be required to express frank and fearless disagreement with ministers for reasons of constitutional propriety rather than to assist the minister's policy agenda. The most obvious case is the right (and duty) to disobey any specifically unlawful instruction. In addition, when public servants are instructed to act in breach of an administrative rule or against the spirit or intention of a law, some form of principled pushback is expected. For example the minister can be specifically informed of the potential breach or a file note can be entered to that effect, even if the minister still has the right to prevail. In this way, the role of public servants is to remind ministers of their procedural duties and so provide an ethical brake on ministers' potential misconduct. For example, in the case of Morrison's multiple appointments, the immediate question for the relevant departments was whether they had pointed out the constitutional impropriety of his proposed decisions or whether they had simply complied without demur. Recent evidence suggests that the upper levels of the APS have been failing in their role as integrity watchdogs. As the Auditor-General pointed out in his series of reports on the rorting of community grants programs, officials from the relevant departments willingly acquiesced when ministerial advisers pressed them to cut procedural corners in the award of grants. Administrative procedures that had been carefully crafted to strike a balance between independent assessment by officials and final decision by ministers were routinely overridden in headlong pursuit of the government's partisan interests. Moreover, public servants sometimes acted improperly on behalf of ministers without needing to be told to. In the community sports infrastructure program administered by Sport Australia, senior public servants had serious doubts about the minister's legal right to make decisions binding a statutory agency. But they chose not to raise these legitimate doubts, presumably out of fear of offending the minister and the prime minister's office. MORE OPINION: A similar pattern of knowingly avoiding the potential illegality of government decisions occurred throughout the notorious robodebt affair, now subject of a royal commission. Departmental officials surely had reason to suspect that the "recoveries were against the law but chose to press on with the government's signature policy rather than urge a halt while legal issues were clarified. Overall, such examples confirm the impression of a public service that has become over-politicised and reluctant to confront its political masters on matters of legality and process. What can be done to reverse the trend? Integrity advocates are putting their faith in an independent integrity commission with wide-ranging powers. Others are looking to structural reform of the APS, to be spearheaded by Gordon de Brouwer, the new secretary for public reform, along with Glynn Davis, the new secretary of PM&amp;C, who served on the Thodey review of the public service. As Andrew Podger, a former public service commissioner, has pointed out, the Thodey report is worth revisiting for measures to increase the independence of the APS, including stronger tenure for secretaries and a more prominent role for the commissioner. Cultural change, however, is ultimately a matter of leadership. Even without any major institutional reforms, those secretaries and their deputies who know what is right could quietly insist that their staff should adhere to due process and should inform their superiors if they are being pressured to act otherwise. The public service commissioner, as statutory upholder of APS integrity, could publicly remind public servants that APS values sometimes lead officials into legitimate disagreement with ministers' advisers and he could provide general advice about how to manage such conflicts. Ministers in the new government could emphasise that their professed enthusiasm for receiving frank and fearless advice extends beyond matters of policy to issues of ministerial impropriety (and not just the impropriety of their predecessors).