Kevin Rudd’s ministerial code of conduct takes several positive steps in the right direction, especially on the question of financial disclosure and conflicts of interest. It is certainly better than anything John Howard put up, including his original 1996 version.

Under Rudd’s 18 month cooling off period for former ministers, we won’t be seeing a repeat of this shameful roll call of sheer greed, opportunism and conflict of interest:

Larry Anthony: the former children’s affairs minister joined the board of ABC Learning six months after losing his seat.

John Fahey: after claiming he’d privatised more things than anyone else in the world, the former Federal Finance Minister John Fahey signed up with JP Morgan four  months after retiring at the 2001 election.

Peter Reith: the retiring defence minister waited about 48 hours before accepting a lucrative consultancy with Australia’s biggest defence contractor Tenix.

Richard Alston: was only six months out of Parliament when he was lobbying for Austereo on digital radio policy.

Michael Wooldridge: redirected $5 million from healthcare programs to help relocate the Royal College of General Practitioners just seven days before the 2001 election. The GPs then used the money to hire Wooldridge as a consultant after the election before then firing him and paying out $382,5000 on an unfair dismissal claim in an exercise that added about $600,000 to his gross wealth.

Whilst it is unclear how such a ban will be policed – the Brits rely on a bipartisan committee to scrutinise post-parliamentary appointments – the pressure is now on the state Labor governments to follow suit, thereby preventing anyone else from “doing a Bob Carr”.

Rudd deserves full marks for requiring all Ministers and their families to offload direct shareholdings, so we won’t see a repeat of John Moore’s active trading from the Defence Minister’s office, Santo Santoro’s frenetic day trading and Warwick Parer’s vast conflicts through mining exposures when Resources Minister.

The question of ministerial accountability is a little less clear cut with Rudd giving himself plenty of wiggle room to blame public servants when things go wrong – something the NSW Labor Government has got down to an art form with more than 30 departmental and quango bosses sacked since 1995.

The register for lobbyists is terrific and with positive moves afoot on FOI laws and Reserve Bank independence, this really only leaves the political donations disclosure regime as the major outstanding area and Special Minister of State John Faulkner is making positive noises.

Having overseen the introduction of an anti-corruption watchdog in Queensland after the corruption of the Joh years, it is surprising there hasn’t been any debate about the PM doing something similar at a federal level.

Oh well, you can’t get everything in life.

Peter Fray

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