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Code of Conduct

Parliamentary Activity - Thursday, 29 November 2018


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, the long- awaited Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament is a written expression of our best selves. It outlines how we must conduct ourselves if we are to maintain public faith in the institution of parliament. Not everyone of us in here are parliamentary, and I am the first to confess to that.

I thank Mr Hidding for accelerating this work, acknowledging we tried to bring on a code of conduct late last year but it did not happen. It was a little too close to the heat of an election campaign but we are at a point I was not sure we would reach at the end of this year. It is a week in which matters of conduct have been the primary point of discussion in this place. The conduct of Mr Brooks has been brought into question and laid bare in the Integrity Commission's report.

I hope the events of the past week in this place and the introduction of a code of conduct for members will help to focus all members' minds on the responsibility we owe to the people of Tasmania. This code of conduct is well-worded, clear and not open to interpretation. There are some points in this code that, if they were adhered to and abided by on a personal level as members of parliament as well as applied by all parties in this place, particularly the government of the day, would go a long way to restoring public trust in the institution of parliament. For example -

Accuracy of statements

A member must only make statements in Parliament and in public that are, to the best of their knowledge, accurate and honest.

There is no other way to interpret that than you must tell the truth in this place. You are obliged to tell the truth in this place. It has not been a feature of Question Time over the past four years.

I will be moving two amendments to this motion. With your indulgence, Madam Speaker, may I briefly wander over to the Clerk?

Mr Hidding - If this was successful, we would not have an identical code of conduct. If you want to change the wording -

Ms O'CONNOR - No, no. I was not going to change the wording of the code of conduct because you negotiated that with other parties in this place in good faith. No.

Thank you to the Clerk. I also want to move an amendment to the motion that establishes this committee. I will move them as concurrent amendments. This seeks to ensure the committee for privileges and conduct is balanced to the greatest extent possible to make sure members of minor parties in this place are treated fairly committee matter. It is also to make sure we do not end up with a situation Ms White highlighted, which is that you are effectively setting up a kangaroo court if the government of the day has the numbers on the committee for privileges and conduct.

Madam Speaker, I move -

That the motion be amended by inserting after 'that', first occurring -

the honourable member for Clark, Ms O'Connor, and the honourable member for Lyons, Mr Hidding, be appointed to serve on the Standing Committee on Privileges and that

And that -

Standing Order 325 be amended by leaving out 'five', and instead inserting, 'seven'.

I floated this yesterday, in the referral of Mr Brooks to the Privileges Committee. I believe all parties in this place should be represented on the Privileges Committee. I hope the Greens in this place are understood to be quite fair-minded people, other than when you press our green buttons and conduct yourselves in this place in a way that lets down the people who voted you in. I would like to think Government and Opposition members would recognise this strengthens the capacity of the committee on privileges and conduct as it will be constituted after we pass the code of conduct for members.

It would be instructive to each of us, every now and again, to have this sitting at our desk and to read it to remind ourselves why we are here. We are here to act on behalf of the people of Tasmania. We are here to affirm we value the public interest and the fundamental objective of public office and to act solely in terms of the public interest, which is one of the most important statements in this code of conduct for members. If we applied that prism to every matter before the House, every question and all legislation, we would be the best parliament in the world. We would act every day, for and on behalf of the people of Tasmania, solely in terms of their public interest. That would mean making good decisions about the provision of health, education and housing. That would mean making sure there is not rampant inequality in our community, that we are not setting up barriers to people living in rural and regional areas.

As elected members, every day in this place we must act on behalf of the human, social and environmental welfare of all living things through the responsible execution of our official duties. We should all come into this place valuing integrity, honesty, accessibility, accountability, fairness, transparency, courtesy, respect and understanding without harassment, victimisation or discrimination.

One of the provisions in the code of conduct - and I thank Mr Hidding for accepting our suggestion - that instead of talking about, as the code of ethics does, that we tolerate, that we are a tolerant community, that we assert ourselves as an inclusive community. If you tolerate something, you can just barely put up with it. If we cannot use the word 'tolerance' in relation to multicultural affairs, to difference of any sort in our community, and if we can start talking about inclusion, and if we can start thinking in a truly inclusive way, Tasmania will be a better place for the time that we, those of us who are here, elected right now, in this term of parliament. It will be a better place because of the way that we conduct ourselves and that we embrace a more inclusive community, where every Tasmanian, no matter what their age, race, religion, gender, cultural background, feels included and represented in the Tasmanian Parliament, that they feel that they are equal members of the Tasmanian community, protected by Tasmanian laws such as the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1998.

We are here every day to serve all Tasmanians, no matter what their politics, their age, their gender, their race, colour, creed or beliefs. It is our job in this place to stand for all of them, no matter what our party affiliations are. I do hope, that the House supports our amendment and that we can make sure the Privileges Committee of parliament in future represents minor parties and that it does not dissolve into a kangaroo court. That would not strengthen public faith in the institution of Parliament.