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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1528


Ms BURKE (11:00 AM) —On behalf of the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests, I wish to make a statement concerning the committee’s inquiry into a draft code of conduct for members of parliament. At the outset, I want to thank the Standing Committee on Procedure for the change to the standing orders that actually allows us to discuss committee reports as they are going along and not just at the end, when all the hard work is done and you are relegated to five minutes in this place. I think this is a terrific initiative and I commend the parliament and those involved in the change.

I rise today to bring to members’ interest—particularly members of the House, because this is their inquiry—a really important inquiry that could have a great deal of impact of them. We have been given a reference by the House which is a different style of reference: we have been directed by the House to inquire into a code of conduct. This has arisen out of the various agreements that were struck at the beginning of the new paradigm that we are in between the Independents and the Greens. Having been given this inquiry, I think we need to deal with it sensibly and intelligently. We have been granted an extension of time for the reporting date, and I want to thank the Leader of the House for that, because it was getting too close to do something in a meaningful manner that could impact so greatly on all members of this House and indeed on our colleagues in the other place.

The inquiry directs us to develop a draft code of conduct for members of parliament and, in considering that, the committee must give consideration to the operation of the code in other parliaments, who could make a complaint in relation to breaches of the code, how these complaints might be considered, the role of the proposed parliamentary integrity commissioner in upholding a code, how a code might be reinforced and what sanctions could be available to the parliament. So we are looking at a range of things: who can actually bring a complaint against a member of parliament, how that complaint will be investigated and how a sanction—if the breach has been found to be true—could be imposed. We have struggled for many years over these issues and to date we have not come to a resolution. This inquiry is actually forcing us to ask: ‘Will we or won’t we adopt a code of conduct for members in this place?’

We have written to numerous state counterparts who have such commissioners and integrity situations already set up, and I want to thank all of those jurisdictions for supplying some fantastic information. I also wrote to all members of parliament, asking them to make submissions to the inquiry, and I want thank the member for Berowra—because he is the only one who has actually written back in respect of the matter—for taking the time to provide us with some useful information. We have also been in touch with our counterparts in the UK parliament, who have such a code of conduct and an integrity commissioner already in place. We hope to, at a later stage, conduct a teleconference with our colleagues in the UK to thrash out some of the information they have provided.

We are now going to move to a roundtable discussion, and today all members should receive a letter from me inviting them to participate in a roundtable discussion in Canberra on Monday, 21 March 2011. It is the Monday of that sitting week, between 9 am and 12 pm here in Parliament House, and I really do encourage everyone to participate in that roundtable. Otherwise, we will be coming back and thrashing out something that nobody has ownership of and, if we do resolve to have a code of conduct, I cannot see how we can impose something on members if they have not had a part to play in these discussions. It is also vital that our colleagues in the other place participate in that roundtable.We have written to members of their equivalent committee asking them to come along, because I think we would be in a delicate situation if we had members of the House with one code and senators without a code or with a different code. That is vital that if we are going down this path.

At this stage we are to come back with a draft code that would then need to be endorsed by the parliament. As I have said before, this has been tried on numerous occasions and to date nothing has succeeded. Whether or not it is needed is something members should come along to the roundtable and put to us as part of the committee inquiry into this issue. As I said, we have been granted an extension of time for the reporting date, and we will now report at the end of the budget sitting week. I ask all members to be involved in this inquiry, as it directly affects all members of the House. I thank the Deputy Speaker and the chamber.