The slow progress towards ethical principles. In September 1975 a Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament in a Report on Declarations for Interests presented to both Houses of federal parliament noted that, while the issue of a code of conduct was beyond its terms of reference, it “felt that a precise and meaningful code of conduct should exist”. It recommended that a Joint Standing Committee be established. It wasn’t.

In July 1979 an inquiry into public duty and private interest, chaired by Sir Nigel Bowen recommended that a code of conduct be implemented for officeholders,including members of parliament. The code focussed largely on matters to do with pecuniary interests rather than broader ethical issues. No code was implemented, although a regime for the registration of the interests of members was introduced in 1984.

In 1991 Bob Hawke, as Prime Minister, proposed that a working group of parliamentarians be established to develop a seminar on the standards of conduct expected of senators and members. This subsequently evolved into a working group looking to develop a code of conduct. That working group did not complete its task before the 1993 election.

When the new parliament met the Presiding Officers reconvened a working group to look at the development of a code of conduct for Senators and Members and for Ministers. The draft proposals of that working group entitled Framework of ethical principles for Members and Senators was presented in June 1995. The then Speaker of the House, the Hon Stephen Martin MP, said:

Members will share with me, I am sure, a concern for the public esteem in which we are held as parliamentarians by the Australian community. In my view, it is only by individually observing the principles outlined in these frameworks that we will begin to redress the public perceptions.

Fast forward to last weekend when Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she welcomed debate in Parliament on a code of conduct for members, the introduction of which she promised as part of an agreement with independents that allowed Labor to form government.

No while progress has hardly been rapid, at least there’s now another parliamentary paper for MPs to dally over. Last November the Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests produced a “discussion paper” on the subject. Needless to say it has  so far been largely ignored.

MP Expelled from House of Representatives without criminal  conviction. Well it has happened once.

On 11 November 1920, the Prime Minister moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the honorable Member for Kalgoorlie, the Honorable Hugh Mahon, having, by seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting on Sunday last, been guilty of conduct unfitting him to remain a Member of this House and inconsistent with the oath of allegiance which he has taken as a Member of this House, be expelled this House.

The speech to which the motion referred was delivered at a public meeting in Melbourne, and concerned British policy in Ireland at that time. The Leader of the Opposition moved an amendment to the effect that the allegations against Mr Mahon should not be dealt with by the House, and that a charge of sedition should be tried before a court, but the amendment was negatived and the original motion was agreed to on division. After the motion of expulsion was agreed to, a further motion was moved declaring the seat vacant which was agreed to on division. Mr Mahon stood for re-election in the resulting by-election but was not successful.

The rules have changed since then. Section 8 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 removed the power of the House of Representatives to expel Members derived from the privileges and practice of the House of Commons passed to the Australian Parliament under section 49 of the Constitution. But presumably what the Parliament took away it could always restore without the need for the referendum that some pundits are claiming is necessary.

Expulsion out but suspension still on. The Australian parliament might have given away its power of expulsion but the right to suspend a member remains. Given the delicate balance of the numbers in the Reps these days, sidelining Craig Thomson for a couple of weeks or so could create the circumstances for an interesting constitutional crisis. What would the Governor General do if the government lost a no-confidence motion by a single vote while the member for Dobell was banned from attending? And what if the suspension was not for a couple of weeks but a couple of months?

The naked truth of protesting. In Europe during these times of austerity demonstrations are two a penny which makes getting your cause recognised continually harder. Hence the tactic of the Ukrainian group Femen to attract attention as portrayed in Der Spiegel.

A quote of the day

“If China were a normal country, it would be hurtling into a brick wall. A ‘hard-landing’ later this year would already be baked into the pie. Whether this hybrid system of market Leninism — with banks run by Party bosses — conforms to Western monetary theory is a hotly contested point. The issue will be settled one way or the other soon. What seems clear is that China’s economy did not bottom out as expected in the first quarter. It is flirting with real trouble.”

— Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International business editor of London’s Daily Telegraph

Some news and views noted along the way.

  • The Pirates do well again as German Chancellor Merkel’s party suffers.
  • The coming helium crisis affects more than just party balloons.