For two and a half years, New South Wales MPs have kept from the public a Parliamentary Ethics Committee report that practically dismissed, ignored or deferred the implementation of virtually every recommendation to change the rules for secondary employment by Members of Parliament, made to them by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2003.

The report has only now been made available to the public on the NSW Parliament website after the Parliament has been prorogued and in the middle of the election campaign when the likelihood that it would be overlooked was high. Coming in the wake of recent revelations of moonlighting by police and other public servants in NSW, the handling of the recommendations and the Committee report will only fuel perceptions of one law applying to MPs and another to everyone else.

In late 2002, after the controversy surrounding then Opposition Leader John Brogden and questions he asked while on the backbench when engaged in a consultancy with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the NSW Legislative Assembly asked the ICAC to examine the matter and make recommendations to improve the regulation of consultancies and second jobs taken by MPs.

Parliamentary privilege prevented ICAC from looking at the specifics of the Brogden case, but in September 2003, the ICAC released a 105 page report making 14 recommendations to improve the regulation and disclosure of secondary employment by MPs in office.

In February 2004, the Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics, comprised of ALP, Liberal and National MPs as well as Independent MP and Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, resolved to consider the recommendations. (Incidentally, Moore originally submitted to the ICAC that MPs be specifically barred from holding second jobs before she ran for and won election as Lord Mayor.)

A report was prepared by the Ethics Committee and tabled in the Lower House on 23 September 2004, with no speeches and no attention given, other than an order to print the report. However, the Committee report was released on to the NSW Parliamentary website only yesterday, with the date of the report given as 27 February 2007.

Amongst the recommendations in its report, the ICAC advised the Legislative Assembly to consider amendments to the code of conduct to explicitly define and prohibit paid advocacy by MPs, require greater detail in pecuniary interest declarations, and require specific employment agreements with clients. All were rejected by the Ethics Committee. Even consideration of a recommendation that the MPs pecuniary interest register be made available on the internet was deferred pending a trial in Western Australia. No such internet access seems to have been made subsequent to the trial.

Noting that it was unable to investigate the Brogden claims due to parliamentary privilege, the ICAC also recommended that either there be provision to waive privilege for the purpose of such investigations or establish an arms length internal mechanism for investigating claims against MPs. Both were rejected in favour of the politicians making a decision on a case by case basis.

Crikey contacted the Ethics Committee secretariat this morning to ascertain the reason for the delay for publishing the report on the Parliament’s website. We were advised that the Committee Report had only just been published there because it had been located during “housekeeping”, with the delay also accounted by the need for the report to be scanned by the Parliament’s printing service and limited staffing for the Ethics Committee.

Disclosure: The author was engaged as a consultant by the ICAC, while employed by the NSW Ombudsman, to research and prepare the first draft of the ICAC’s report on secondary employment of MPs.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey