26 October, 2020
Commonwealth Parliamentary Standards Bill 2020
This bill sets out the components of the proposed national pro-integrity framework that are specific to the Commonwealth parliament. In particular, this bill creates a statutory code of conduct for MPs and their staff; a statutory basis for the existing registers of interest for parliamentarians; a new parliamentary integrity adviser, who will provide independent, confidential advice and guidance to MPs and their staff about integrity matters; and a new parliamentary standards commissioner who will assess, investigate, resolve or refer serious alleged breaches of the new code of conduct.
I second the motion. In the remaining time I will say a few words. I must say, as a former barrister, I was rather surprised that as members of parliament we don't have a code of practice and a code of conduct. I think it is something that is missing, and it takes away from the contribution we can all make. It is something that I think would elevate the conduct of members of this place and would ensure that the principles for which we are here—to serve the public interest and ensure a robust debate that serves the public interest—are carried out.
There's no doubt in my mind—along with 80 per cent of the Australian public—that there is a call for a national integrity commission and, along with that integrity commission, a code of conduct for members of parliament. Too often the Australian people get cynical when they hear of one scandal after another involving members of parliament and departments. Just in the last few weeks, we've seen numerous scandals explode on the front pages of our newspapers, and the Australian people could be forgiven for getting cynical and believing that the bar is lowered just one little bit further, because, at the end of the day, we have these headlines but we don't have any outcomes. The Australian people never get to see or understand what happens next. We sometimes have people falling on their swords and sometimes we don't, but, often, it's a rolling front-page of headline after headline until we get to the next scandal. I done think that is a good outcome for democracy. We really should see a government and all members of this place looking to uphold a greater standard. If not from us, then who will it be? Who will make sure that we actually have a better standard?
There have been a lot of calls during the pandemic this year that it's too hard to pass this kind of legislation or that the consultation needed simply isn't possible. I don't accept that reason, because we've seen that a lot of our operations have been able to be done through Zoom and other electronic mediums. In the last six months, during COVID, we've seen legislation brought to parliament ranging from easing restrictions on political donations, banning mobile phones in immigration detention centres and dramatically restructuring university fees. We've seen a push through of legislation when it came to environmental protections and we've seen collaboration from both sides of the chamber to bring about emergency legislation to ensure Australian people are properly cared for during this pandemic. So I think that amidst this kind of situation we absolutely have the right ingredients to bring every member of this parliament together to ensure that we pass legislation that will uphold a greater standard of integrity, accountability and conduct by the members in this place. There has been a disregard and a carelessness with accountability and good governance, and we absolutely must bring that back.
I strongly believe that every MP in this place has a duty to their constituents. I believe it goes to the core of the values that we are here for—what we represent as members of parliament and what so many Australians fought so hard to protect and defend for so many years. I do believe that it's time for accountability and for every member of parliament to step out from behind party lines and come and be accountable for what you truly believe in. You either stand for integrity, anti-corruption and a code of practice and code of conduct and accountability or you condone every breach by inaction and by unwillingness to debate it and to vote on this legislation. I believe strongly that it's time to bring on the debate on both of these bills: the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2020 and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Standards Bill 2020.