The Australian parliament’s code of conduct must be short, simple and have clearly enforceable rules, according to the UK’s parliamentary workplace standards commissioner.  

Kathryn Stone, who leads the independent commission that investigates alleged breaches of the House of Commons code of conduct, has provided advice to a committee tasked with developing a similar code for Australian parliamentary workplaces.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese committed to implementing a code of conduct following recommendations in the landmark review of parliamentary workplace culture by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

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In 2018 the UK House of Commons embedded a parliamentary behaviour code into the code of conduct for MPs.

Ms Stone recommends Australia’s behavioural code be drafted in simple terms and kept short.

Based on her experience overseeing the UK code, Ms Stone said training, induction and publicity of workplace standards was as important as having the written code of conduct. 

One code for everyone working in and visiting parliament also ensures there is a consistent message about acceptable behaviour, she said in her submission.

It also means unacceptable behaviour can be fairly and consistently challenged. 

If it is to be enforced, clear rules need to be included in the code itself rather than having “aspirational principles”, Ms Stone said.  

She also recommended success criteria be included in a code so that its performance can be easily measured after it is implemented. 

Efficient, independent and confidential workplace investigations are critical in any enforcement action for code breaches, Ms Stone said.

“In our experience a strong system of informal resolution can provide better outcomes more expediently, which in turn drives confidence in the code and real behavioural change,” she said. 

“Formal investigations … tend to become adversarial and protracted.” 

An independent body must be responsible for enforcing action against a parliamentarian who breaches the code and MPs must have opportunities to appeal decisions, she said. 

Federal parliament’s standards committee is currently taking submissions on a code of conduct.

It is due to present a report to parliament by November. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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