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Western Australia

May 14, 2012

Commonwealth lags badly on MP code of conduct

Federal Parliament is far behind other jurisdictions in having a code of conduct for its members.


When it comes to codes of conduct, the Commonwealth parliament badly lags several other jurisdictions.

New South Wales, Queensland, WA, Tasmania, Victoria, the Northern Territory and ACT parliaments all have codes for MPs (in Tasmania, for government MPs only), which are additional to, or include, ministerial codes of conduct — which the current federal government has.

NSW goes one better than merely having a code of conduct: the NSW code is included in definitions relating to corrupt conduct under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, meaning a breach of the code has potentially serious consequences and an investigative apparatus to pursue it.

The Coalition view on a Commonwealth code of conduct — that you don’t need a code to tell you what’s right and wrong — is at odds with its own policies about other industries (it’s OK to urge consumers to provide input to a communications industry code of conduct, but apparently a parliamentary one is out of the question) and the parliamentary reform agreement it signed up to in 2010, which committed the Coalition to support a code of conduct (backed by a parliamentary integrity commissioner), although it has repeatedly abrogated that agreement.

That position is also plainly wrong.

There are plenty of issues where a code is necessary to identify inappropriate behaviour. What about disclosure of secondary employment? At what point does an MP need to reveal that, like John Howard’s industrial relations consultancies for law firms in the 1980s, they’re receiving income from another source? The NSW code, for example, addresses that issue. What rules should apply to post-political employment? Ministers and advisers now face a cooling-off period. What about other MPs seeking to move into lobbying? How about more timely and comprehensive disclosure of pecuniary interests?

And then there’s treatment of political and electoral staff. All too many MPs on all sides of politics apparently don’t know what’s right and wrong when it comes to how they treat their staff, and the result is a lengthy casualty list of broken people, often but not always with compensation from taxpayers, for being bullied, harassed and abused.

It’s telling that none of the current state codes of conduct relate to treatment of staff, although the Victorian Parliament imposed a hardline code of conduct on staff.

The whole issue of a parliamentary code of conduct and appropriate enforcement mechanisms was meant to have been resolved long ago, as a consequence of the agreement to improve parliament. But the implementation has been marked by delay and lack of interest — almost as if MPs would prefer there be no mechanism for assessing their ethical standards.



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And while at it, what about an Oath of Office for all parliamentarians that is relevant to their duties and responsibilities to the people of Australia as well as Duty Statements for all government and opposition front bench appointments on both sides of the despatch box?

If accountability is what people want of and in their Parliament, that’s one way to get it that doesn’t require waiting for elections to come around.


Couldn’t agree more. It is about time that the same codes of conduct were held against the behaviour of elected representatives. Any Code of Conduct is only as good as those who deliberate on breaches or those who have oversight. No point in a code if in practice it has no teeth. There are numerous cases of bullying, failures in codes of conduct, breaches, barriers to FOI and internal whistleblower reports that never get a public airing within the public sector. Fear still plays a role in future career and job prospects. This won’t change while whistleblower protections remain vague… Read more »

The first thing that should be brought in, is remove the adressing as “THE HONOURABLE MEMBER, what a farse.


Am I right in thinking that the very good NSW Parliamentary Code of Conduct was the result of the last hung parliament? If so, then we’re in good hands in getting an appropriate code for the Commonwealth, as the rooky MLA in that old NSW Parliament is now the point man for the House of Representatives – the excellent Tony Windsor.


Nothing wrong with the title of “the Hon”. Just need to get them to earn it and live up to it.

Borrowing from considerations of fuzzy law and insider trading, “What the mischief was that it was the purpose of the legislation to remedy.” So a Code of Conduct is to be introduced to deal with the malfeasance of Thomson, or so Windsor and Gillard would have us believe. It would have to include specifics such as prior to being a member the member behaved badly by, ? Anyone think that is what is intended, isn’t it more likely that a Code will just let him off the hook. I think Kudelka’s cartoon today covers their objectives, “suspicion someone is taking… Read more »
Chris Johnson
Note that it’s taken a hung parliament to lift the lid on political integrity. So desperate for outright power the two major’s have gone hammer and tongs to lay each other bare. But the bad news is that Slipper and Thomson are just blow-ins to a loyal-to-loser parliamentary brotherhood of zipped lips and smothers for mates that wreaks of footie and bikie culture. Law-breaking, civil and human rights violations all documented in parliamentary lore are the inevitable wash-up of handing ordinary people extraordinary powers. The media coverage of ‘complex characters in the tradition of the Australian larrikin MP’ is tip… Read more »
Edward James
@ Chris Johnson. I am pleased to read the writing of someone else who points out the loyal to the loser parliamentary brotherhood. I like to identify what our elected representatives do and accommodate as political sins against the peoples. There is no doubt the two parties not much preferred will never legislate better protections for whistleblowers. Systemic abuse of due process and corruption is permitted because party members and those who support them may turn away even leave the party but most of them are not brave enough to expose the rot which causes our political system so much… Read more »


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