Senate debates

Thursday, 17 October 2019


National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019; Second Reading

12:24 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum, and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated into Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This Bill is intended to operate alongside the National Integrity Commission Bill (No. 2) 2018, which was passed by the Senate on 9 September 2019.

Together, this integrated package of reforms will promote public trust and confidence in the integrity of parliament, the public sector and our democratic systems. The package is about creating a culture of integrity and respect and a practical, proactive approach to preventing corruption.

The erosion of the public's trust in democracy is not only a result of high level criminal corruption, but of the more insidious misuse of power and decline in political conduct. People see the loss of civility, the favours done for mates and donors, the turning a blind eye to breaches, the political reward of cushy post-parliamentary careers. The Democracy 2025 report confirms that the Australian public is sick of the poor behaviour of politicians and demanding that we lift the standards.

The Bill builds on previous code of conduct proposals by Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale. Those proposals were a response to declining standards of behaviour that led to a senator wearing a burqa into the Senate as a publicity stunt, a senator talking about 'the final solution', and disgraceful examples of sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments in parliament. The Senate Procedure Committee recommended voluntary codes of conduct in response, but it is clear that a compulsory code is needed to bring some credibility back to parliament.

Being elected to this place is a privilege. The very least the public should be able to expect of its elected representatives is civil debate, transparency, and a commitment to using the privilege to act in the best interests of the public, not themselves.

The Bill establishes a statutory code of conduct that requires all politicians and senior staff to behave respectfully, to perform their roles seriously and with care, to avoid conflicts of interest and profiting from their positions. It requires parliamentarians to ensure that power and public resources are used in the public interest.

This new code of conduct will supplement the existing Ministerial Code of Conduct and the Lobbying Code of Conduct, and give those codes the independent oversight and teeth they have been lacking. The Bill also requires a review of those codes to strengthen the standards regarding lobbying and post-parliamentary employment.

The Bill also provides a statutory basis for the existing registers of interests.

The Bill will establish an independent Parliamentary Integrity Adviser to provide confidential advice on integrity issues. Helping parliamentarians and staff to understand their obligations and talk through ethical issues will help to prevent corruption. To encourage people to seek advice on ethical issues, the Bill protects the confidentiality of any matters discussed with the Parliamentary Integrity Adviser.

The Bill will also establish a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner with broad powers to investigate breaches and report on ethical and integrity standards. For serious allegations, the Commissioner may refer the matter to the National Integrity Commission for a more comprehensive investigation.

Importantly, the Bill seeks to protect those who come forward with code of conduct concerns. It will be an offence to threaten or intimidate any person who refers a matter to the Commissioner, seeks advice from the Parliamentary Integrity Adviser or provides information, documents or other evidence to those bodies.

The Bill recognises the potentially corrupting influence of political donations and campaign financing. It requires a review to improve the consistency and enforceability of Commonwealth, State and Territory donations disclosure and campaign expenditure rules and to bring those rules in line with national and international best practice.

This Bill builds on a decade of tireless advocacy from various Greens members. I acknowledge former member for Indi, Cathy McGowan MP, for previously introducing this Bill in the other place, and for joining the Greens in championing the creation of a strong integrity framework.

The Bill is consistent with recommendations made by Transparency International, Griffith University and by the Australia Institute's National Integrity Committee. It has been informed by the Draft Code of Conduct prepared by the Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests in 2011 andthe 2015 Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's Recommended benchmarks for code of conduct applying to members of parliament.

This Bill has been a long time coming and the need for it could not be clearer.

The Greens are committed to cleaning up politics and restoring public faith in democracy. This Bill and its companion, the National Integrity Commission Bill (No. 2) will lift the standards and make parliament a place that works for everyone.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.