Despite the conduct of politicians having declined year on year and public confidence in democracy bottoming out, both major parties have rejected the need for binding, independently enforced parliamentary standards proposed by the Greens.
Responding to today’s bipartisan recommendation of the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee to oppose the Greens Parliamentary Standards Bill introduced in October 2019, Greens Leader in the Senate and spokesperson on democracy, Senator Larissa Waters said:
“With scandal after scandal and regular poor behaviour, the public generally thinks politicians are all corrupt, in it for themselves, and behave like pork chops in parliament.
“With parliamentary sittings due to resume shortly, sadly we clearly need stronger, independently enforced standards that apply to all parliamentarians and their senior staff to act with integrity, avoid conflicts of interest, and use resources in the public interest.
“In recommending this bill not be passed, the major parties have failed the test of whether they want to set an example for the public and help to end corruption and restore public trust in democracy, rather than act like spoilt toddlers.
“Alarming levels of disrespect had been allowed to flourish in parliament, from corruption and selfish opportunism to appalling behaviour that would not be tolerated in any other workplace.
“Pauline Hanson wearing a burqa in the Australian senate as part of a political stunt, Fraser Anning talking about the ‘final solution’ in his maiden speech, James McGrath threatening to leak my address on national television last year – all show how desperately needed parliamentary standards are.
“The existing Ministerial Standards are weak, opaque, and enforced completely at the Prime Minister’s discretion – it’s not good enough. Those standards have not deterred the litany of questionable behaviour by Ministers, both in and out of the chamber.
“Parliamentarians have a duty to serve and to represent, and should set a good example – if people in such positions of leadership can be openly sexist, homophobic, and corrupt, what kind of license does that give the rest of the country?” Senator Waters concluded.
The report, including the Greens dissenting remarks, is available here: https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query%3DId%3A%22publications%2Ftabledpapers%2Fabcd6bf1-160f-4476-89d2-50ec04e594ec%22
The Greens bill requires all politicians to respect others, to avoid conflicts of interest, to act with integrity, and to ensure that power and public resources are always used in the public interest.
It would establish a new independent enforcement agent with teeth, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who can investigate breaches of the code of conduct and take action when politicians’ behaviour fails to meet public expectations.
For serious allegations, the new Public Standards Commissioner could refer the matter to the Greens proposed National Integrity Commission for a more comprehensive investigation.
The bill also sets out a process to review and strengthen existing standards for lobbying, post-parliamentary employment, political donations, and campaign financing.
In their additional remarks, the ALP did again voice its support for a federal ICAC; the Greens’ bill for a federal ICAC passed the Senate with Labor’s support almost a year ago.