Adjournment matter: Members of Parliament code of conduct

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — My adjournment matter is for the Special Minister of State, and the action I seek is for the minister to overhaul the current code of conduct for members of Parliament. The seemingly endless series of scandals shows the current code of conduct is out of date, inadequate and unenforceable. It is clear we need a tougher integrity regime for all members of Parliament, a new code of conduct that is clearer, stronger, broader and enforceable by the anti-corruption commission or another independent body, one that will reflect the community's expectations of members of Parliament, cover key areas such as acting in the public interest, transparency, honesty and the appropriate use of entitlements.

The current code of conduct for MPs is barely two pages long, was written about 40 years ago and MPs seem to be acting with impunity when they breach it. We have had members refer themselves to IBAC, when they do not have the power to investigate; and members to be found in breach of entitlements rules and not being referred to the Privileges Committee. I call on the minister to overhaul the code of conduct for MPs and make it enforceable by the anti-corruption commission. Too often, we are seeing MPs acting for personal or political gain, when decisions should be made in the public interest for the public good.

Answer 

The Government is proud to be introducing a Bill into Parliament to comprehensively update and strengthen the current Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament in the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978. Changes to the Code are part of a larger reform package announced by the Government in April 2017 to establish a Remuneration Tribunal to set salaries for Members, and which significantly enhances the integrity regime to restore public confidence. 

The Victorian Independent Remuneration Tribunal and Improving Parliamentary Standards Bill modernises and expands the Code to be clearer and more reflective of contemporary standards, and outlines obligations relating to the acceptance of gifts, benefits, hospitality and standards of person conduct. In addition to retaining and clarifying the existing obligations of the Code, the Bill requires Members to:

a. uphold democracy and respect others regardless of background; 

b. avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest when engaging in employment and activities outside their duties as a Member; 

c. not accept gifts, hospitality and other benefits which create a conflict of interest; 

d. exercise influence responsibly, and not use their influence to further their private interests; and 

e. not take improper advantage of their former office in their post retirement activities. 

The Bill maintains that a wilful contravention of the Code amounts to a contempt of Parliament that may be punishable by a fine. The Bill also sets out other potential punishments, including an apology, suspension from the House, or the Member's seat in the House being declared vacant. 

These proposed amendments, and other amendments to the Register of Interests, are based on recommendations of the 2009 Law Reform Committee Review of the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978. 

These reforms are complemented by other measures in the Bill, including significant changes to the Parliamentary Salaries and Superannuation Act 1968 to increase transparency and accountability regarding the use of parliamentary resources. The measures contained in the Bill promote compliance and makes clear the high standards of personal and professional behaviour expected of Members.

 

Gavin Jennings MLC

Special Minister of State