On 17 October 2019, the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019 (the bill) was introduced to the Senate by Senator Larissa Waters of the Australian Greens.
On 5 December 2019, pursuant to the report of the Standing Committee for the Selection of Bills, the bill was referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by 16 April 2020.
The committee subsequently agreed to extend the reporting date to 12 August 2020, and notified the President of the Senate.
Purpose of the bill
This is the second time that the bill has been introduced as part of a package of bills intended to:
… create a nationally coordinated integrity framework, with an emphasis on prevention, supported by strong powers of investigation to enable criminal charges or other actions in response to cases of corruption.
The package of bills was first introduced into the House of Representatives by Ms Cathy McGowan MP, and comprised:
the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (the McGowan NIC Bill), introduced on 26 November 2018, seeking to establish the Australian National Integrity Commission 'as an independent, broad-based public sector anti-corruption commission for the Commonwealth'; and
the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2018 (the McGowan NIPS Bill), introduced on 3 December 2018, seeking to establish a code of conduct for parliamentarians and their staff, a Parliamentary Integrity Adviser and a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
The McGowan NIC Bill and the McGowan NIPS Bill lapsed at the dissolution of the 45th Parliament on 11 April 2019.
The National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No. 2) (Greens NIC Bill), which is almost identical to the McGowan NIC Bill, was introduced to the Senate by Senator Waters on 29 November 2018. This bill was passed by the Senate on
9 September 2019 and is currently before the House of Representatives.
The bill that is the subject of this inquiry is intended to operate alongside the Greens NIC Bill. Together, this package of bills mirrors that originally proposed by Ms McGowan MP and is about 'creating a culture of integrity and a practical and pro-active approach to preventing and addressing corruption'. Appendix 2 of the report sets out how the elements of the reform package, in the Greens NIC Bill and the bill, are intended to interact.
The purpose of the bill is to:
… encourage robust debate on issues of importance that remains respectful and inclusive, to ensure that power and public resources are used in the public interest, and to discourage politicians from behaving in a way that discredits Parliament.
Provisions of the bill
The Explanatory Memorandum to the bill states that the bill incorporates aspects and builds on the work of others, including:
the Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests report into a Draft code of conduct for Members of Parliament (2011, 43rd Parliament);
the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's Recommended Benchmarks for Codes of Conduct applying to Members of Parliament (2015); and
the Transparency International Australia and Griffith University led Australian Research Council Linkage Project, Strengthening Australia's National Integrity System: Priorities for Reform (2018).
To achieve the stated purpose, the bill proposes to introduce:
a statement of values for parliamentarians and their staff;
a statutory code of conduct for parliamentarians and their staff;
a statutory basis for parliamentarians' registers of interests;
a Parliamentary Integrity Adviser to provide independent, confidential advice and guidance to parliamentarians and their staff on how to honour the applicable codes of conduct; and
a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner (Commissioner) to assist the Presiding Officers, Privileges Committee, Prime Minister and National Integrity Commission (proposed by the Greens NIC Bill) with assessment, investigation and resolution of alleged breaches of the applicable codes of conduct.
The code of conduct proposed in the bill comprises the following elements:
a commitment to uphold democracy and respect others regardless of background;
a requirement to declare and avoid conflicts of interest;
a prohibition on parliamentarians using their position for profit;
provision for outside employment and activities as long as there is no actual or perceived conflict of interest;
a prohibition on parliamentarians accepting any gift, hospitality or other benefit where there is an actual or perceived conflict of interest;
the responsible use of influence of the position of parliamentarian;
proper use of public resources;
standards for personal conduct;
a prohibition on the use of confidential information to further private interests; and
a requirement that post-retirement activities not take improper advantage of any office held as a parliamentarian.
As noted above, the bill would establish the position of Parliamentary Integrity Adviser as an independent officer of the Parliament. The Parliamentary Integrity Adviser's functions includes providing confidential advice, following a written request from a parliamentarian, a former parliamentarian, or a person employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984, about:
an applicable code of conduct (including a parliamentary code of conduct); or
parliamentary remuneration, expenses or allowances; or
an ethics or integrity issue; or
an interest (including an actual or potential conflict of interest issue); or
a matter of propriety; or
The bill also provides for the Parliamentary Integrity Adviser to provide confidential advice to a Minister about the Minister's compliance with a Ministerial code of conduct.
The Parliamentary Integrity Adviser would also be the Registrar of statements of interests for members of the House of Representatives and senators.
The bill also provides for the establishment of the position of Commissioner. The functions of the Commissioner include:
investigating alleged or suspected contraventions of the bill or any applicable code of conduct; and
at the request of a Minister, investigating any alleged or suspected contraventions of a Ministerial code of conduct.
Where the Commissioner determines that the conduct referred for investigation may constitute a criminal offence, the Commissioner must refer the matter to the National Integrity Commissioner, the Australian Federal Police or another appropriate law enforcement agency.
In the case of an allegation or suspected contravention of a parliamentary code of conduct, if the Commissioner determines that the conduct referred involves a corruption issue within the meaning of the National Integrity Commission Act 2019, the Commissioner must either:
inquire into the corruption issue; or
refer the corruption issue to the National Integrity Commissioner.
In the case of an allegation or suspected contravention of a Ministerial code of conduct, if the Commissioner determines that the conduct referred involves a corruption issue within the meaning of the National Integrity Commission Act 2019, the Commissioner must either:
recommend to the Prime Minister that the Commissioner inquire into the corruption issue; or
recommend to the Prime Minister that the corruption issue be referred to the National Integrity Commissioner.
The bill contains provision for the Commissioner to issue public advice in relation to the outcome of an inquiry. There is also provision for the Commissioner's reports to be tabled in Parliament in certain circumstances.
The bill also provides that it is the 'intention of Parliament' to expand the functions, powers and resources of the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority to those of an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The role of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is to 'support the administration of the [bill] and the functions and assistance of the Parliamentary Integrity Adviser and the Commissioner'.
Conduct of the inquiry
Details of the inquiry, including the links to the bill and associated documents were published on the committee website at: www.aph.gov.au/senate_fpa.
The committee directly contacted a number of relevant organisations and individuals to notify them of the inquiry and invite submissions by 7 February 2020. The committed received 5 submissions which are listed at Appendix 1.
The committee thanks those individuals and organisations that contributed to this inquiry.