Monday, 29 October 2012
Private Members' Business
Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament
I am pleased to rise to speak to the motion on a code of conduct for members of parliament. Let me state clearly right at the outset: I certainly do not support a code of conduct. The reason is quite straightforward. I hear all the hand-wringing speeches from members of parliament who lament the way question time is conducted. They do not like the fact that the public generally view parliamentarians with low esteem—understandable given the types of behaviour they see. Believe you me, it is not lost on me that we have in this parliament some of the most untoward parliamentary conduct, in particular by two members of the lower house. That not withstanding, I do not attempt to condone in any way, shape or form their behaviour or more broadly the types of behaviour that we see in question time, which the previous member spoke about at length. I do not condone that, but I also am not so foolish as to believe that some bit of paper labelled a code of conduct and some other additional public servant role named an integrity commissioner or some such is going to do anything to change this parliament.
When I read through the Draft Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, I noted that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Privileges and Members' Interests did not make a firm recommendation about whether or not a code of conduct should be adopted. The reason for that is very sound: those who argue that a code of conduct is going to be the silver bullet—the panacea to re-establishing in the heart of our nation the people's faith in the institutions of the lower house and the upper house—know full well that they cannot justify that position based on experience in other jurisdictions, both domestically and internationally.
If it were as simple as passing some meaningless code of conduct with some other quango in the form of a so-called integrity commissioner, we would have seen results in other jurisdictions. We have not seen results because it does not mean anything. We can pass all the bits of paper we want, we can have all the codes of conduct we want, we can have all the laws we want but if people do not abide by them, if people do not respect them, there is no point. The simple reality is this. When it comes to the behaviour of parliamentarians, each and everyone of us is subject currently to the best scrutiny around—that is, the scrutiny of the opposite side. Whether you are in government or opposition, other members of parliament are watching closely and other political parties are contesting your seat while watching your activities closely. That is why things often bubble to the surface. But even more than that—I think all members would recognise the black humour in this—the greatest check on any member of parliament is their own side.
Make no mistake: we all know that there is no shortage of ambition among parliamentarians or, indeed, from those who aspire to be parliamentarians. I have no doubt that, if a parliamentarian is doing the wrong thing, it would take all of about five seconds for someone on their own side to pull out a big trusty knife and slit their throat, as we all know. I think that there is already a couple of fairly good checks and balances.
In addition to that, there is media scrutiny. We know that the media through their investigative journalists—some of whom in Australia are among the best in the world—have the opportunity to ensure that behaviour that is unacceptable is routed out. Then, in addition to that, we have the laws of both the state and federal parliaments. These laws have at their disposal a police force to undertake investigations and to bring action if it is warranted. So, on every level, for members of parliament, there are already checks and balances in place.
The reason that there is still behaviour that people frown upon is that, fundamentally, it comes down to individual choice. Simply adding one more document to a pile of documents and simply having one additional public servant called an integrity commissioner is not going to change a thing. Anyone who believes that it will is delusional. It has not changed things in other jurisdictions. It is not as if in the United Kingdom or in the state of Queensland, where these types of vehicles exist, there is this great love of the parliament or towards parliamentarians. No. The same problems exist in those jurisdictions. This is nothing more than a feel-good exercise that will deliver no net tangible benefit whatsoever.
Fundamentally, I say to all those that like to champion this argument that there should be a code of conduct and an integrity commissioner: why hasn't it worked elsewhere? More importantly, if they are serious about making changes then, as Gandhi would say, 'Be the change you want to see in the world.' I say to them that they should change their behaviour. (Time expired)