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Wednesday, 5 October 1983
Page: 1383

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Leader of the House)(5.24) —I move:

That this House-

(1) notes that Ministers have provided statements of their private interests, and those of their families of which they are aware, and that copies of those returns have been presented to the Parliament as a matter of public record;

(2) is of the opinion that all Members should provide similar statements of their private interests, including those of their families of which they are aware, covering the following matters:

(a) shareholdings in public and private companies (including holding companies) indicating the name of the company or companies;

(b) family and business trusts and nominee companies-

(i) in which a beneficial interest is held, indicating the name of the trust, the nature of its operation and beneficial interest; and

(ii) in which the person or immediate family is a trustee, indicating the name of the trust, the nature of its operation and the beneficiary of the trust;

(c) real estate, indicating the location (suburb or area only) and the purpose for which it is owned;

(d) directorships in private companies, indicating the name of the company, its activities and the total amounts of its assets and liabilities;

(e) partnerships, indicating the nature of the interest, the activities of the partnership and the total amounts of its assets and liabilities;

(f) liabilities (excluding short-term credit arrangements) indicating the nature of the liability and the creditor concerned;

(g) the nature of any bonds, debentures and like investments;

(h) saving or investment accounts, indicating their nature and the name of the bank or other institutions concerned;

(i) the nature of any other assets (including collections, but excluding household and personal effects) each valued at over $5000;

(j) the nature of any other substantial sources of income;

(k) gifts valued at more than $250 received from official sources, or at more than $100 where received from other than official sources;

(l) any sponsored travel or hospitality received; and

(m) any other interests, such as membership of organisations, where a conflict of interest with a Member's public duties could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise;

(3) agrees that a public register of Members' statements of their private interests referred to in paragraph (2) should be established;

(4) agrees that Members should provide such statements on an annual basis and that amended statements should be provided if alterations in circumstances occur ;

(5) agrees that notwithstanding the lodgement of statements by Members and their incorporation in a public register individual Members should declare any relevant interest if they participate in a debate in the House or vote in a division in the House; and

(6) requests the Standing Orders Committee to consider and report upon-

(a) what changes to the standing orders may be required to give effect to the matters contained in paragraphs (2) to (5) of this resolution; and

(b) the desirability of adopting other provisions relating to Senators and Members contained in the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Duty and Private Interest (except constitutional matters, but including, in particular, a Code of Conduct).

I will not take a lot of time speaking to the motion because it is well known that the Government, particularly Ministers, have already provided statements of their private interests and those of their immediate families of which they are aware. They have been presented to the Parliament as a matter of record. I was hoping-I am not trying to shorten the debate-that we could have come to some agreement on the terms of the motion. Honourable members will see a proposal that the Standing Orders Committee consider and report upon what changes to the Standing Orders are necessary to give effect to the matters contained in the motion. The questions relating to the adoption of any other provisions are contained in the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Duty and Private Interest. Constitutional matters are excluded but a code of conduct, in particular, is included.

Briefly, the history of this matter goes back many years. There was some concern in the 1970s because of what was known as the Webster case which ultimately went to the High Court of Australia. It related to the interpretation of what should be the position of disclosure, particularly of pecuniary interests. We are all well aware of the sanctions which are imposed in the Constitution. A member, who participates in a debate in which he has a conflict of pecuniary interests, can well jeopardise his entitlement to remain in the House. The Riordan Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament was established in 1975. Whilst it was a Joint Committee of the Parliament it found a number of difficulties in its recommendations. However, it expressed the:

. . . desire to suggest workable proposals designed to safeguard and enhance the integrity of public officials without making unjustified inroads into their existing rights of privacy.

The Committee recommended that members of parliament should disclose their shareholders and real estate, that they should declare the names of companies of which they are directors and any sponsored travel. However, the Committee did not suggest other matters which might now be deemed appropriate and which Ministers have already disclosed, namely their liabilities. In 1979 the then Government commissioned the Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest which is known as the Bowen report. That Committee concluded that, on balance:

. . . the advantages of compulsory registration of the private interests of office holders are insufficient to outweight the disadvantages.

However, it did recommend what pecuniary interests ought to be contained in what it called a public register. These include directorships, shareholdings, realty, trusts, assets-which are different from those that I have mentioned-and liabilities. The Committee stated:

. . . that the exclusion of liabilities from some 'limited' registers is one of their greatest failings. A simple listing of assets, without any offsetting liabilities, could lead to grossly misleading comparisons being made . . .

It also required the disclosure of gifts, travel and hospitality, and that all sources of income by way of salary, wages, fees or honoraria be registered. That brings us to the question of what ought to be disclosed. The Riordan Committee felt, although it would not agree, that there should be disclosure of interests of members and their immediate families. I note that the Opposition has some worries about that. I feel that 'family' ought to mean 'immediate family'. The Bowen Committee, in recommending that a code of conduct be adopted, believed that not only should an office-holder disclose an interest which might conflict with his public duty but when the interests of his immediate family are involved they should be disclosed too. Again we get back to the type of register that is required. The Riordan Committee stated:

Members of Parliament should provide the information required in the form of a statutory declaration to a Parliamentary Registrar who shall be directly responsible to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is reasonable and proper to allow the public to have access to the information provided that it is a bona fide inquiry . . .

The Bowen Committee recommended that:

For elected office holders, the registers of interests should be publicly accessible;

and that:

Responsibility for ensuring that disclosure by registration requirements are complied with should rest with the Parliament itself, with each Chamber in respect of its own Members.

Whether that responsibility should be discharged by what is called an ethics committee or, the suggested alternative, the existing committees of privileges or a joint committee is a matter which the Parliament should decide. The Committee recommended that:

A breach of the rules, whether by failing to lodge a return or lodging an incomplete or inaccurate return, should be considered by Parliament as a breach of privilege with the attendant sanctions available.

The information contained in the register should be published annually as a Parliamentary Paper. This would ensure that any member of the Australian public who wishes to consult it may do so with a minimum of inconvenience. Maintenance of the register be the responsibility of one or more Registrars, who would be officers of the Parliament.

In respect of disclosures, the Bowen Committee recommended that:

the Senate and the House of Representatives should be invited to consider adopting, whether by Standing Order or resolution, requirements along the lines of the resolution of the British House Commons-

which provided for disclosures as far back as 1974. The Committee further suggested that:

the Senate and the House of Representatives should . . . consider including in such Standing Order or resolution provisions:

(a) that a declaration of interest should be made at the earliest opportunity--

and that:

(b) . . . such declarations should be automatically recorded as part of the official record--

The Committee also stressed that:

any requirement for registration . . . would . . . still require an ad hoc declaration of interest because of its relevance and immediacy.

The question of a code of conduct was discussed by the Riordan Committee, which believed that a precise and meaningful code of conduct should exist. Accordingly the Committee recommended that a joint standing committee of the Parliament should be established not only to supervise the operation of the register but also to draft a code of conduct based on standing orders, conventions, practices and rulings of the Presiding Officers of the Australian and United Kingdom parliaments and such other guidelines as may be considered appropriate. The Bowen Committee also recommended the adoption of a code of conduct in preference to what it called a 'compulsory register of interests'. It drafted a code that it believed would be of general application to all office holders.

We now come to the question: Is this unique? When one looks at the precedents, one finds that it is not. For example, in the United Kingdom, subsequent to a resolution of the House of Commons in May 1974, it was agreed that there should be a register which would provide information of pecuniary interests or other material benefit which a member may receive. It set out nine specific classifications which related to remuneration from directorships, employment or office, trades, professions or vocations, the names of clients, financial sponsorships, overseas visits, any payments or any material benefits or advantages received on behalf of foreign governments, land and property, the names of companies or other bodies in which the member-either himself, his spouse or infant children-had a beneficial interest. The register was additional to the requirement of all members to declare their interests when they speak in debate. The House of Commons in May 1974, transformed this convention into a rule. It is the responsibility of members of that Parliament to notify any change in their registrable interests within four weeks. The register is open for public inspection by prior appointment.

In the United States, under the Ethics in Government Act 1978, each member of the Senate and the House of Representatives must file a report containing a full statement of all assets. I will not go into the details except to say that the assets also relate to the interests of the spouse and dependent children. There is also a duty to reveal any beneficial interest held by the member under a trust. These reports are available for public inspection.

In Canada in 1978 the Government introduced into the Federal Parliament a Bill for what is called the 'Independence of Parliament Act' to establish rules and guidelines. Parliamentarians would be required to disclose publicly each year the various matters there set out. Again, provision was made for the appointment of a registrar for each House of Parliament to maintain a register and to provide for public access to it, and to advise members of their obligations under the legislation. Failure to comply with the disclosure requirements could lead to a fine or possible disqualification from sitting in the Parliament. So much for other parliaments in the world.

We come now to our own Australian States and Territories. In doing so, we find that there is ample precedent for the subject of this motion. The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly was the first assembly in Australia to adopt a system of registration of members' financial affairs. It did so on 2 August 1978 . It required the registration of members' financial interests. It required the disclosure of assets and liabilities. It also required disclosure of such interests by spouses and dependent children. The register is kept by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. It is available to any bona fide inquirer after informing the member concerned of the request and the name of the inquirer.

In New South Wales, members are required to disclose similar interests, but the interests of their families are not required to be disclosed. The Clerk of the House maintains the register and it is available to the public. It is acknowledged that Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory do not have such registers. But South Australia certainly does . In similar terms to the others it also requires the disclosure of pecuniary interests by the family of the member, which means the spouse and any child under the age of 18. The Clerk of the Parliament maintains the register. It is available for public access and is to be updated annually. In Victoria there is an obligation on members to disclose their pecuniary interests. The obligation also applies to the family, which includes the spouse and any child under the age of 18. The Clerk of the Parliament maintains the register but does not make it available for public access. The return is updated yearly.

What has now happened-as I think should have happened a long while ago-is that members of parliament, because of the interest in the fact that they are expected to uphold their office with the utmost integrity, are obliged to make these disclosures. It is a precedent established across the world. I hope this motion will be accepted because it states that there has to be disclosure by all members. Nevertheless, the method will still be left to the Standing Orders Committee. I understand that the Opposition objects to the fact that there has to be public register. I think that the type of public register is still a matter for the Standing Orders Committee. I note also that the Opposition-quite validly in my view-feels that the definition of family is too wide. I am prepared to say that it should include immediate family, which would not make it too wide. I think that matter could have received support. Now that there are to be at least 20 people debating this matter we look like having a fair expression of views.

In conclusion I seek leave to table variations on the Ministers' statements of private interests presented to the Parliament. There were some omissions in those statements. They relate to the various portfolios of Finance, Transport, Primary Industry, Special Minister of State, Administrative Services, Health, Aboriginal Affairs, Territories and Local Government and Defence Support. As honourable members will appreciate, because it is a new matter and those Ministers are not skilful in such matters now that they recognise that the public has taken an interest in them-

Mr Spender —Why did you not say you were standing by the original statement?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I am being quite fair about this. We are going to table the variations. Any honourable member can look at them. They probably relate to matters that concern the spouse--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Is the honourable gentleman seeking leave to table the document?

Mr Sinclair —He does not need leave to table the document.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I will table it.

Dr Klugman —Why do you not seek leave to incorporate the paper in Hansard?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —We do not want it incorporated in Hansard at this stage; thank you very much. You are very helpful. I hope we can perhaps shorten the debate. If we cannot, we will be here for some considerable time.

Mr Sinclair —I raise a procedural matter. I wonder whether the Leader of the House will move that in the light of his tabling a paper in respect to order of the day, No. 20, that is, the Prime Ministerial statement, it is appropriate to have a cognate debate on Notice No. 7 and order of the day No. 20.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —In accordance with the request of the Opposition, I suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering Notice No. 7, dealing with my motion on the subject of public duty and private interests of members of parliament, and my amendment thereto and the resumption of the debate on Order of the Day No. 20 relating to the ministerial statement by the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, on pecuniary interests.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is it the wish of the House to follow the course proposed by the Deputy Prime Minister? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.