Codes of conduct in Australian and selected overseas parliaments, 2012

Political parties Local government Australia

Presenting registers of interests, the post-separation employment of ministers and the use of ethics commissioners in providing advice on and/or conducting investigations into breaches of codes.

 In 2009 the Canadian Senate Ethics Officer, Jean T. Fournier, spoke about parliamentary ethics at an Australian conference. Although much has been achieved in the first decade of the 21st century, he believes members of parliament still need to do more to regulate their behaviour:

  • "Much work deserving of credit has been done by parliamentarians around the world in establishing ethics regimes in recent years. Much more is required, however, to raise standards of behaviour to acceptable levels. We run the risk of self–satisfaction and complacency. Strong and timely ethical leadership is required from parliamentarians in all countries. The responsibility to act is not with the executive, the judiciary or some other body. It clearly lies with parliamentarians. As parliamentarians “own” their ethics rules, so to speak, it is for them to demonstrate leadership and to strengthen existing legislative ethics regimes."

This background note details the approach taken in Australian and some overseas parliaments to codes of conduct for ministers and members of parliament, registers of interests, the post-separation employment of ministers and the use of ethics commissioners in providing advice on and/or conducting investigations into breaches of codes. It also includes sections on codes covering lobbyists. Where possible it provides links to relevant documents. It does not compare codes of conduct or include codes covering the public service or ministerial staff. The publication includes historical information to show the development of accountability and ethics regimens in each parliament.

The development of parliamentary codes of conduct has varied in Australian parliaments. In some states, codes have been developed as the result of inquiries, for example in New South Wales (the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Greiner/Metherell affair) and in Queensland (the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission, formed as a result of the Fitzgerald inquiry).

Six Australian parliaments (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory) have separate codes for ministers and members of parliament. All Australian parliaments have adopted registers of pecuniary interests and four (New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Australian Capital Territory) have ethics or standards mechanisms in place. Most Australian governments have introduced lobbyist registers and codes of conduct governing the conduct of lobbyists and have codes governing the post-separation employment of ministers.

This publication also examines the ministerial, parliamentary and lobbying codes of conduct in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and New Zealand.

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