Accountability Round Table has sent to the Parliament of Australia, Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests, a proposal for a Code of Conduct to be adopted by all parliamentarians. We argue that the absence of such a Code has resulted in continuing uncertainty for Members and Senators, and for the people of Australia, as to the ethical standards which are required to be met by all Members of Parliament.
Two Codes were proposed. One for the House of Representatives and one for the Senate.
These two were designed to work consistently with each other, being based on the same set of ethical principles and standards of integrity.
The ART draft Codes articulate clearly a number of fundamental principles on which they are based, including the principle that public office is a public trust. (For a recent discussion of the applicability of this principle see “Public Office, Public Trust” by Chief Justice Robert French, published in 2011.) In addition, the draft Codes articulate aspirational goals in terms of the obligations owed by holders of public office, and provide guidance for particular situations where ethically problematic issues can and do arise. The draft Codes also put forward a specific regime for making and dealing with complaints, a principled and practical one enabling them to be handled appropriately.
The draft Code has been prepared by three ART members with an expert understanding of the issues and arguments.
- The Hon Dr Ken Coghill, former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria (Cain & Kirner governments), now Associate Professor, Business and Economics, Monash University.
- The Hon Kevin Rozzoli AM, former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of NSW (Greiner & Fahey governments), now Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Government at the University of Sydney, and National President, The Australasian Study of Parliament Group.
- Howard Whitton, Fellow in the ANZSOG Institute for Governance in the University of Canberra, and a specialist in Public Sector Ethics. He was the principal author of the Australian Government’s “Standards of Ministerial Ethics” adopted in December 2007.
History of parliamentary Codes of Conduct in Australia and earlier ART Code of Conduct proposals
For many years Parliament has attempted to develop a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Representatives and Senators. In 1983, the Hawke Government introduced a register of lobbyists, but neither the Hawke Government nor the subsequent Keating and Howard Governments introduced a Code of Conduct for members of Federal Parliament.
In 1996, the Howard government introduced a “Guide to Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility” which was updated in 1998. The 1998 version was the foundation for the first ART proposal for a reformed Code of Ministerial Conduct. Our first proposed reform was “Be Honest Minister” 2007.
On 6 December 2007 the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, released Standards of Ministerial Ethics which replaced chapter 5 of the Howard Code. It is these standards to which our Code of Conduct proposals above, are a response.
An excellent paper by Deirdre McKeown of the Parliamentary Library Politics and Public Administration Section that traces the history and development of Codes of Conduct in the various Australian parliaments and selected overseas parliaments up September 2012 to can be found here.