Diane Beamer, Acting Speaker of the NSW Parliament, has tabled the annual reports of the Parliamentary Ethics Adviser for the years ended 30 November 2004, 30 November 2006, 30 November 2007 and for the period 1 December 2007 to 30 June 2008.

The four reports all landed on the same day without explanation or apology.

For inexplicable reasons there were reports for 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 — but not for 2005. Perhaps there were no ethics in parliament in 2005 and the parliamentary adviser’s services weren’t needed.

Each report is typed on less than two pages of foolscap paper with a covering letter to the Speaker from the ethics adviser, Ian Dickson, the former NSW Electoral Commissioner.

To say that the reports are bare of detail is to be over-generous. They are bereft of detail.

“Dicko”, who receives about $10,000-a-year plus expenses for the job, has a breezy workload tending to the ethical dilemmas of MPs:

  • He gave advice to seven MPs in 2004 burning up 45 hours of his time;
  • He gave advice to three MPs in 2006 over 60 hours;
  • He gave advice to two MPs in 2007 over 80 hours;
  • He gave advice to five MPs and four former MPs in 2008 covering 100 hours.

The ex-MPs were mainly former ministers, like Carl Scully, who wanted to know how to arrange their post-parliamentary careers without creating conflicts of interest with their previous portfolios.

When he left the premiership in August 2005, Bob Carr immediately transferred his operations to work as a consultant to Macquarie Bank then headed by Alan Moss, husband of the former commissioner for the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

Although he was acting within his rights as a private citizen, his abrupt move to MacBank on a contract that has never been disclosed raised eyebrows in parliament.

However, in Dickson’s avalanche of reports, he gives no specific rulings or advice on post-separation employment. Perhaps he views that as the prerogative of the Government and its Code of Conduct.

His threadbare reports do reveal that MPs consult him on issues close to their heart, such as: what do they have to declare (and, conversely, what they can conceal from the pecuniary interest register), how can they spend their parliamentary allowances without breaching the rules and how can they earn extra money while serving on the backbench?

Dickson is the second parliamentary ethics adviser. He succeeded Ken Robson, a former NSW Auditor-General, who took the position in September 1998 on a resolution moved by Carr and supported by the Opposition.

Although the strictest confidentiality must necessarily surround any inquiries made privately to the ethics adviser by MPs, the paucity of reporting makes the position almost an irrelevance.

By the way, when Carr moved the successful resolution to establish the ethics job he told parliament reports would be tabled annually. They were certainly written annually by Dickson and he was paid according to his metered hours on the job, but they weren’t made public until the Acting Speaker tabled four of them the other day.

And we are still waiting for the 2005 report.

Ethics — NSW-style.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey