Following receipt of a letter from Annastacia Palaszczuk, QLD Premier, outlining her government’s activities on transparency and open government, ART circulated the following request for commitments by all QLD political parties to the same principles. We only received one response, from QLD ALP Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad. However this more than made up for the absences of the others in its comprehensive reply.
Dear (Name of Party Leader)
The Accountability Round Table (ART) considers that all political parties and politicians in Australia should acknowledge and practice the requirements of the legal and political principle that public office is a public trust.
As explained by Sir Gerard Brennan, former Chief Justice of Australia:
“It has long been established legal principle that a member of Parliament holds “a fiduciary relation towards the public” (3) and “undertakes and has imposed upon him a public duty and a public trust”(4). The duties of a public trustee are not identical with the duties of a private trustee but there is an analogous limitation imposed on the conduct of the trustee in both categories. The limitation demands that all decisions and exercises of power be taken in the interests of the beneficiaries and that duty cannot be subordinated to, or qualified by the interests of the trustee. As Rich J said(5):
“Members of Parliament are donees of certain powers and discretions entrusted to them on behalf of the community, and they must be free to exercise these powers and discretions in the interests of the public unfettered by considerations of personal gain or profit”. (https://www.accountabilityrt.org/integrity-awards/sir-gerard-brennan-presentation- of-accountability-round-table-integrity-awards-dec-2013/
The principle has been given practical expression by former judge and Queensland commission of inquiry head, Tony Fitzgerald QC, as requiring everyone elected to Parliament
- To act honourably and fairly and solely in the public interest.
- To treat all citizens equally
- To tell the truth
- Not to mislead or deceive
- Not to withhold or obfuscate information to which voters are entitled
- Not to spend public money except for public benefit
- Not to use your position or information gained from your position for your benefit or the benefit of a family member, friend, political party or other related entities.
The ART is approaching all political parties contesting the Queensland election to ask whether they endorse each of these principles and what they plan to do to realize and institutionalize those principles. To this end they will be asked whether:
- They support all the established independent integrity mechanisms and institutions (such as the judiciary, CCC, Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Auditor General, the DPP, the Information Commissioner, an effective Parliamentary Committee system.)
- If they have any proposals to strengthen integrity mechanisms and institutions to realize the Fitzgerald principles. In particular
- Do they support changes to the ministerial code of conduct to bring it into line with the Commonwealth requirement that “Ministers are expected to be honest in the conduct of public office and take all reasonable steps to ensure that they do not mislead the public or the Parliament. It is a Minister’s personal responsibility to ensure that any error or misconception in relation to such a matter is corrected or clarified, as soon as practicable and in a manner appropriate to the issues and interests involved.”
- Do they believe that Ministers should accept responsibility for the actions and activities of their personal ministerial staff [and, if not, how do they intend to ensure accountability rather than plausible deniability?].
- Do they have any other proposals for strengthening integrity mechanisms and institutions in ways that would more effectively realise the Fitzgerald principles?
ART is conscious of the fact that in the term of the current government significant advances have been made to improve accountability in such areas as Parliament (independence of the Speaker, independence, structure and role of the CCC, political donation disclosures and parliamentary committees). However, it is hoped that this election and future elections will be marked by a competition between the parties to make the Fitzgerald principles more effective and thereby help to rebuild public trust in political parties and political institutions.
We look forward to your response to the challenge of adopting policies that would further enhance accountability in accordance with the principles and policy proposals outlined above.
We are also seeking responses from the other Parties.
We will be following our usual practice of publishing the correspondence on our website.
Hon Tim Smith QC
Chair Accountability Round Table