TI AUSTRALIA SUBMISSION TO SENATE FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEES INQUIRY INTO NATIONAL INTEGRITY (PARLIAMENTRY STANDARDS) BILL 2019

16 March 2020

Transparency International Australia supports the introduction of the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019.

We think it is part of a much-needed package of reform, which should also include a federal anti-corruption agency.

This Bill, which calls for an Act to enhance the integrity of the Australian Parliament, will strengthen trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament, the public sector, and the democratic system.

This Bill incorporates aspects of the Transparency International Australia and Griffith University led research –Governing for Integrity: A Blueprint for Reform (2018).

Our research, based on lengthy discussions with experts and everyday Australians alike, point us towards clear priorities for reform.

These include a strong national anti-corruption and integrity agency, caps on political donations, controls over political lobbying, a robust code of conduct for all parliamentarians, better protection for whistleblowers, and cooperative action on global anti-corruption, bribery and money laundering efforts.

The Parliamentary Standards Bill is noteworthy for the following reasons (among others):

  • It introduces a Parliamentary Code of Conduct
  • It creates a Parliamentary Adviser. Most importantly this is an independent officer of the Parliament, able to provide advise on a broad range of integrity issues and compliance with codes and standards, and tasked with developing better practice guides and fact sheets in support of a pro- integrity approach
  • It creates a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. Importantly, also an independent officer of the Parliament, with scope to (among other functions) investigate alleged or suspected contraventions of the Act or any applicable codes of conduct, including parliamentary Codes of Conduct and the Ministerial Standards Statement. The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner would work closely with an established National Integrity Commission and other appropriate law enforcement agencies, enabling a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to tackling both criminal offences and misconduct
  • It requires a review of the Lobbying Code of Conduct
  • It requires a review of political financing, funding and donations; and
  • It requires a review of the post-separation employment regulations for commonwealth public officials.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Transparency International Australia recommends:
  1. The National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019 be enacted
  2. The Parliamentary Standards Bill operate alongside appropriate legislation to establish a National Integrity Commission
  3. A major review and overhaul of lobbying, political donations, and post separation of employment regulation and oversight

 

Transparency International Australia notes the Bill would be enhanced with some amendments, including:
  • The functions of the Parliamentary Integrity Adviser1 be broadened to include a matter or decision taken, or to be taken where undue influence may exist, and matters associated with post-separation of employment
  • The functions of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner2 be broadened to include oversight of and investigation of alleged breaches of the Ministerial Standards Statement
  • Alleged or suspected contraventions of the parliamentary code of conduct3 to be referred to the National Integrity commission to include both criminal and non-criminal breaches of the code
  • Penalties for failure to comply with the parliamentary code of conduct4 be strengthened to include a person being asked to resign or be sacked. Consideration to be given to penalties for awarding a benefit to business (e.g. a contract awarded, licence granted) as a result of undue influence – a breach of the code of conduct – and implications for the project, i.e. would the licence / contract be revoked? While this may not be practical,
  • it is recommended that the company concerned, that exerted the undue influence, be sanctioned in some way, such as blacklisting for a period of time from tendering for projects.
  • Ministerial Standards need to be strengthened. Penalties are needed and these need to be clearly stated in the Bill. A sanctions / penalties section to be included, as it is for the Parliamentary Code of Conduct.
  • Ministerial Standards to be overseen and alleged breaches investigated by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner rather than the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • All reports of investigation into an alleged breach of Ministerial Standards to be made public, with the ‘if not why not’ principle applying and being reported.
  • The review relating to lobbying and post-separation employment5 (currently in the Ministerial Standards) be further refined to make clear the distinction, between lobbying and post separation of employment (albeit related). The review of the Lobbying Code gives particular consideration to the scope of who is considered a lobbyist, and expanded to include in-house lobbyists and industry associations, among others
  • The review relating to political finance, funding, donations and campaign regulation6 be expanded to include consideration of undue influence and ‘revolving doors’.
  • The Register of Member and Senators interests7 be modified to cover the disclosure of the beneficial owners and ultimate beneficiaries for all shareholdings in public and private companies, holding companies, family and business trusts and nominee companies. This should also include disclosure of shareholdings in companies and trusts owned, operated, or where the ultimate beneficiary is a politically exposed person.