As of today, electorate office staff of Victorian MPs will be bound by a new code of conduct signed off by Victorian Speaker Jenny Lindell and Council President Robert Smith.
The Code of Conduct for Parliamentary Electorate Officers (No. 1) (can’t wait for the sequels) is “a public statement about how a group or organisation expects to be perceived and, ultimately, judged. The action of each and every parliamentary electorate officer will shape the way they and Members of the Parliament are perceived.”
This is an important theme running through the Code. Hitherto most of us might’ve thought that it was MPs themselves who were responsible for how they are perceived, and many of them don’t exactly discharge that responsibility effectively. But under the Code, it is electorate staff who have to be careful – whether at work or not — lest they besmirch the reputation of MPs.
They must “behave in a manner that does not bring themselves or MPs into disrepute. Parliamentary electorate officers avoid conduct in their private life… which may bring MPs… into disrepute.” And “the misuse of alcohol, prescribed drugs, illegal drugs and other substances (are there any other substances?) is an issue for both employers and employees as it impacts… in some cases the reputation of MPs.”
Breaches of the code, officers are told, may lead to performance management and misconduct processes.
The best part of the code, however, is its emphasis on the need for staff to treat their MPs nicely. “Parliamentary electorate officers are fair, objective and courteous in their dealings with MPs.” They must “seek to build and maintain a high level of trust with MPs.” Best of all, they must “follow the spirit as well as the letter of laws relating to discrimination, harassment, bullying and intimidation.”
All eminently sensible stuff, albeit a little intrusive and couched in that sanctimonious bureaucratese that makes passive-aggressive censoriousness a prime IR weapon. In fact, it’s so sensible, it automatically begs the question as to why MPs aren’t subject to the same or similar requirements, at least as far as their own staff go. Read through the document and say “Members of Parliament” instead of “electorate officers” and see whether it yields anything inappropriate or undemocratic.
So we contacted Lindell and Smith about whether there would be a similar code of conduct for Victorian MPs. They or their offices hadn’t responded by deadline. According to the Victorian electorate office staff we’ve spoken to, a lot of them — one suspects like electorate office staff throughout the country – would settle for a code that went something like:
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Respect your staff and don’t bully them.
Let them have something approaching a work-life balance.
Work as hard as the people in your office.
Don’t punish whistleblowers.