Parliamentary Code of Conduct

There have been attempts to have a Parliamentary Code of Conduct for years. This is from 2007: A Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament- is the time ever right?

Greens, UnitedFuture, Māori and ACT signed that proposed code of conduct for MPs. But the time wasn’t right for Labour and National who refused to cooperate.

But times have changed. This term a number of disgraced MPs have led to the conduct of MPs becoming an election issue, with three MPs pulling out of re-election in the last couple of weeks due to very poor conduct.

Speaker Trevor Mallard, who has serious conduct issues himself in the past, is now promoting a Code of Conduct and an independent watchdog.

(Mallard has a battling staffer conduct in the courts at the moment after he outed them for alleged exual assault at Parliament, and they started defamation proceedings against him – see Speaker Trevor Mallard loses suppression argument in defamation claim)

He is now addressing MP behaviour.

Stuff: Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard to MPs: ‘Behave or I’ll out you’

Exasperated Speaker Trevor Mallard has issued a stern warning to MPs, threatening to go public with their bad behaviour if they won’t appoint a complaints’ watchdog.

After a year of MPs wrangling over a code of conduct, Mallard has released the one-page document, urging the parties to sign up.

And he says if they can’t agree to establish an independent commissioner to investigate complaints, he’ll go public with the names of repeat offenders. “People have got to own their actions, basically,” he told Stuff.

“Some people are good but not everybody,” he said. “And then we have another group of people who probably just don’t get the fact that they are treating people badly. It is partly generational, but not only.

“And they are, what I would describe as, repeat offenders who I regularly get reports back … about how they treat other people around the buildings or officials.

“I’ll work with the Whips and talk to people, but I am only going to do it once. If things have been taken up with you, either with me or via the Whips, and you do it again then you can’t expect people not to make that public.”

“I find it really hard to believe. I want to make it clear, it is not only MPs. There are some staff members who treat other staff members appallingly. And there are MPs who treat other MPs appallingly.

“Our history has been one of not embarrassing either the institution or our party. I think we live a decade or two behind most workplaces.”

Before the recent disgraces Parliament has already been found badly wanting as far as behaviour goes.

In a sweeping review released last May, consultant Debbie Francis identified a systemic bullying and harassment problem within the corridors of power.

She recommended an Independent Commission for Parliamentary Conduct, to receive and investigate complaints or disclosures about MPs, as well as “a shared Parliamentary Workplace Code of Conduct”.

A cross party group of MPs, and two union representatives, have been working for more than a year on implementing Francis’ 85 recommendations. It is unlikely to get agreement on the establishment of a Commissioner, and caucuses are yet to give approval on the code.

Mallard said: “In my opinion, the party system or myself [as Speaker], neither of those work particularly well. What I’d really like to do is have someone independent who makes final decisions on whether people are outed or not. I would prefer that not to be my decision.”

It makes sense to have someone independent of MPs and parties overseeing their behaviour – actually I think it is essential, as long as they are given decent powers to deal with bad behaviour.

Of course some have tried to avoid accountability by turning on Mallard because of his past indiscretions.

Mallard has been working to make Parliament a kinder, gentler environment, with family-friendly policies. But his efforts are occasionally dismissed because of his own reputation as an enfant-terrible of politics.

“Like many people I have grown up. And my understanding of what is appropriate and acceptable has changed,” he said.

Trying to divert from accountability for behaviour now because of past crappy behaviour is bollocks, but it’s how some operate to try to remain untouchable.

The new code, which won’t be adopted until the next term even if agreed on by parties, says bullying and harassment are “unacceptable”. MPs will hold people to account for incidents and have a ”responsibility to speak up if we observe unacceptable behaviour, especially if we are in a position to help others.”

Code of Conduct here: Proposed Code of Conduct for MPs

Green Party will sign up to long overdue Code of Conduct

Green Party MPs will be signing up to a Parliamentary Code of Conduct, following its release from the Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard.

Green Party Workplace Relations spokesperson Jan Logie, who was on the Working Group for the Code of Conduct’s development, said:

“I welcome the timely release of the Code of Conduct for Parliament.

“The Green Party commit to signing up to it, so that our MPs and staff have guidance on best behaviour that keeps us all happy and thriving in our workplace.

“The Code of Conduct sets clear expectations on acceptable behaviours in Parliament. For too long this has not been clear, resulting in behaviours that have made people in Parliament feel unsafe, with an increased exposure to bullying and harassment.

“It has long been the case that Parliament, like other institutions, had work to do to ensure our spaces were free of harassment and bullying.

“What has been launched today is an important step in creating a workplace where everyone feels safe and valued.

“People deserve to have trust in Parliament. We look forward to the time when Parliament provides a positive example to the rest of the country.

“I remain focused on seeing the rest of the recommendations from the Debbie Francis review being acted upon.”

According to Stuff Labour then issued a statement claiming the caucus signed up to the code on June 30. “It did not disclose this to Stuff when asked about the code earlier this week”.

I can’t find a statement from Labour on the Code of Conduct. Given Jacinda Ardern’s promotion of niceness and kindness I expect they should be fully supportive of Mallard’s efforts.

National To Adopt Parliamentary Code Of Conduct

Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins will recommend to her National Party caucus colleagues that the party signs up to Parliament’s code of conduct.

“The Francis Report and more recent situations have pointed to a lack of respect for the power imbalances that occur within the Parliamentary environment and in the behaviours of some Members of Parliament.

“Robust parliamentary debate will occasionally be needed in the interest of good democracy, but bullying, harassment and inappropriate behaviours should not be accepted in the parliamentary environment or elsewhere.

“I believe everyone who works at Parliament does so because they want to make this country a better place, even if we sometimes disagree on the best way to do that. But there should be no disagreement when it comes to treating people with dignity and respect.

“I will be recommending at National’s next caucus meeting that the party signs up to the code of conduct released by Speaker Trevor Mallard today.”

I can’t find anything from NZ First or the ACT Party., but this sounds promising with three major parties pledging support for a Code of Conduct.

All candidates standing for election should be acquainted with and pledge support for the Code of Conduct.

This won’t guarantee better MP behaviour, but it should help move them in a better direction at least.

I think that having senior MPs like Mallard and Judith Collins strongly promoting the Code of Conduct (and Collins has made it clear she will deal to anyone behaving badly), despite their histories of degrees of dishonourable conduct, is a positive sign that the winds of change are finally starting to reach into Parliament.

Code of Ethical Conduct for MPs

A repost from two years ago on an attempt by outgoing Labour MP Ross Robertson to improve MP conduct that was not supported by either National nor Labour.

After the poor behaviour in parliament last week, hightlighted by the speaker Lockwood Smith and blogged here – Addressing disgraceful parliamentary behaviour – I emailed MPs asking for their opinions on it.

Ross Robertson (Labour MP for Manukau East) replied saying he has a Member’s Bill in the ballot that addresses MP ethics and behaviour. Whether this makes it into parliament is subject to the chance of the ballot. Roberston tried to promote his bill a few months ago:

Tuesday 24 April 2012 Media Statement

Local MP Calls For Support For Parliamentary Code

New Zealand should be a world leader in democratic accountability and transparency, according to Ross Robertson, Labour MP for Manukau East, who spoke to an audience of Rotary members this morning on good governance and democracy.

“Unfortunately New Zealand is not leading as it should be,” Ross Robertson said.

“My Members Bill, title the Members of Parliament (Code of Ethical Conduct) Bill would see a Code of Ethics adopted by MPs and followed according to its spirit and purpose. Unfortunately this bill is yet to be drawn from the members’ ballot.

Ross Robertson told Rotary members that he was frustrated that Kiwis were being put off politics due to often inaccurate perceptions about standards of behaviour.

 “New Zealanders expect parliamentarians to serve out of conviction and a commitment to the public good,” Ross Robertson said. “This bill aims to clarify that purpose and engage young people who are being turned off politics in droves.”

“We need to demonstrate the relevance of Parliament in order to earn the respect for democracy that is so vital to our future as a free and thriving nation.

“With regard to my goal of raising respect for both Parliament and our New Zealand democracy by improving the performance of Parliament, I believe that to do nothing is not an option, for the biggest advantage of a code lies in its ability to regain the trust of citizens in the institution of Parliament and its Members.

“While progress on my bill is at the mercy of the ballot, I will continue to advocate for these important principles.

“This code is about good governance. It is about such things as integrity, transparency, legitimacy, accountability, an acceptable standard of behaviour, and acting in good faith.

“Good governance and transparency are non-negotiable for a healthy democracy,” Ross Robertson said.

I think there will be a lot of public agreement with this. How to get parties and MPs to take some notice?

Part 2, 7 (2):

It is the duty of every member of Parliament to conduct themselves in a
manner that will maintain and support the public’s trust and confidence in the
integrity of Parliament.

Many of the public would argue that some MPs are not conducting themselves in an appropriate manner in parliament. As this bill is “declaratory rather than mandatory” there should be no reason why parties can’t adopt it’s principles anyway.

Members of Parliament (Code of Ethical Conduct) Bill

Member’s Bill

The purpose of this Bill is to provide a Code of Ethical Conduct for members of
Parliament.

The legislature plays a key role in promoting good governance and curbing corruption and poor administration in all sectors of society. Citizens expect parliamentarians to maintain a high moral standard in their professional and private lives. They expect parliamentarians to serve out of conviction and a commitment to the public good, rather than for aspirations of personal power and the pursuit of private profit. In turn, they have conferred on them the legitimate authority to take decisions that determine the fortunes of both the state and its citizens.

Failure by parliamentarians to live up to these expectations can seriously undermine the trust citizens have in the ability of their elected leaders to act in the public interest, and also in the legitimacy of the state and its institutions. At best, this leads to cynicism and apathy on the part of citizens. At worst, it leads to a questioning of the entire political system.

It is crucial therefore, that elected members of government act, and are seen to act, in an ethical manner.

The Code of Ethical Conduct is deliberately modest and declaratory rather than mandatory. There is no evidence in New Zealand of the sort of corruption that has plagued other Parliaments from time to time or is endemic in some other countries. 

The role of a member of Parliament comes with both legal and moral responsibilities. The Code deals more with the moral and ethical responsibilities than those imposed by law. This is reflected in the Code’s guiding principles of selflessness, integrity, confidentiality, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

The Code promotes principles of common courtesy and decency whilst sustaining the sense of cut and thrust that is vital in any legislature at the cutting edge of ideas, creation and consideration. The overall purposes are;

  • to promote high standards of service by politicians;
  • to inspire the quality of behaviour which reflects the honour and dignity of the profession;
  • to encourage and emphasize those positive attributes of professional conduct that characterise effective political leadership;
  • to enable politicians to declare themselves publicly accountable.