Ministerial Standards unfit for purpose

23 July 2019

Transparency International Australia fully supports a Senate Inquiry to review the Ministerial Standards.

Transparency International Australia has long called for higher standards for parliamentary conduct. Before the last federal election, we asked the major political parties and Independents to commit to establishing a code of conduct for allmembers of the federal parliament.

‘We fully support a Senate Inquiry to review the Ministerial Standards,’ said Transparency International Australia CEO Serena Lillywhite, ‘andit should go further – all federal members of parliament should abide by a code of conduct, and oversight moved from the Office of the Prime Minister.’

The Senate Inquiry should consider:

  • the adequacy and reach of the Ministerial Standards,
  • how to better regulate, investigate and enforce standards,
  • public interest accountability mechanisms,
  • registration, transparency and accountability of all lobbyists; and
  • disclosure provisions.

‘We expect higher standards of our elected representatives and appointed officials.

‘The latest scandal of ‘revolving doors’ demonstrates yet again why we need stronger rules and independent parliamentary standards oversight to protect the public’s best interest.

‘The fact that ministers can so quickly and easily step from public office to company payroll risks distorting vitally important policy decisions. When serving the public, our elected representatives must put the public’s best interest first. If they have one eye on their future employer, how do we know what decisions are motivated by the public’s best interest, and what are motivated by a company’s best interest? And how can we ensure companies do not receive unfair access to sensitive government information?

‘Most other state parliaments, all federal public servants, many workplaces and the not-for-profit sector must abide by a code of conduct – and yet members of the Australian Parliament, despite all the powers and responsibilities vested in them, do not have a code of conduct.

‘Lobbying also must be open to examination. While lobbying may be private, parliamentarians must act at all times in the public interest when engaging with lobbyists and making decisions. Secrecy breeds a culture of non-disclosure and undermines the public’s trust in government decisions.

‘The purpose of a code of conduct is to ensure that our elected representatives and appointed officials put the public’s best interest first, act with integrity, and are accountable to the Australian public.’

‘It is a small but meaningful step towards a Parliament that operates with greater integrity. Meanwhile, establishing a National Integrity Commission – with broad scope to investigate, make findings of fact and hold public hearings, should remain a priority for a stronger integrity framework.’