ART is launching this investigation into Ministerial Codes of Conduct following controversial comments by outgoing Premier Andrews and changes to the Code made by new Premier Allan.
Ministerial codes of conduct are used by prime ministers, premiers, and chief ministers to indicate the standards of conduct that they expect from their ministers and parliamentary secretaries. These standards are defined by the head of government (not parliament) and can have an enormous influence on the way government operates.
Our investigation will look into the recent history of ministerial codes of conduct, noting that they tend to carry over with very similar provisions from Premier to Premier and Prime Minister to Prime Minister. It will also examine other codes such as those in the federal parliament, state and territory parliaments, and international peers including the United Kingdom House of Commons.
Widely reported comments on integrity agencies by Premier Andrews appeared to be dismissive of the need for high standards of conduct to be observed by government ministers and parliamentary secretaries. In particular, Premier Andrews criticised heads of integrity agencies whose very purpose is to uphold the integrity of government (Auditor General, Ombudsman, Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission). It was inappropriate for the head of government to undermine the integrity agencies that report to the parliament rather than the executive. The very purpose of the codes is to advance the integrity and quality of government.
Premier Allan made a significant improvement to the code by requiring ministers to publish their diaries of official engagements and meetings every three months. This follows established practise in New South Wales and Queensland except that in Queensland diaries are published monthly.
Ministerial codes of conduct are within the prerogative powers of the head of government and not parliamentary instruments in Australia. They do however supplement the parliamentary code of conduct which must apply to all members of the parliament including ministers and parliamentary secretaries.
The publication of a refreshed code by a new Premier would normally pass unnoticed but media picked up this new provision for publication of diaries, leading to a wider review of the code. ART’s investigation will carefully examine the current Victorian code, how ministers and parliamentary secretaries conduct themselves, and whether or not this is appropriate in a modern democracy.
We aim to present Premier Allan with suggested improvements in the code that will be of value to the Victorian and other Parliaments.
We welcome public comment, below: