Research NZ – low confidence and trust in politicians

Members of Parliament and local council members are the least trusted of a range of professions and groups, and journalists are virtually the same.

Research NZ asked the general public to rate their level of trust and confidence in parliamentary representatives compared to some other professions.

  • Fire Service 89%
  • Ambulance Service 81%
  • Doctors and nurses 81%
  • Police 69%
  • School teachers 65%
  • Lawyers 43%
  • Government workers 35%
  • Journalists 23%
  • Local council members 22%
  • Members of Parliament 22%

Respondents were considered to have trust and confidence if they rated it between 7-10 on a 0-10 scale.

With elected representatives and those who are supposed to hold politicians to account grouped a distant last this doesn’t look good for our democracy.

Register of Pecuniary Interests

The 2016 register of pecuniary interests (and other specified interests) of MPs was made available yesterday.

This is usually scrutinised by media and I’m sure by political parties (checking their opponents).

Here are details what it is all about.

Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament: Summary of annual returns as at 31 January 2016

Presented to the House of Representatives pursuant to Appendix B of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives

MISTER SPEAKER I have the honour to provide to you, pursuant to clause 18(3) of Appendix B of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, a copy of the summary booklet containing a fair and accurate description of the information contained in the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament, as at 31 January 2016.

Sir Maarten Wevers KNZM
Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament

Introduction

Since 2006, members of Parliament have been required to register a range of pecuniary and certain specified personal interests as set out in clauses 5 to 8 of Appendix B of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives. The interests that are required to be registered are listed below.

Items 1 to 9 provide a “snapshot” or stock of pecuniary and specified interests of members as at 31 January 2016. Items 10 to 13 identify a flow of members’ interests for the period from the member’s previous return. This report summarises the information provided to the Registrar in members’ returns in respect of any of the categories below which may apply to a particular member:

  1. Company directorships and controlling interests (clause 5(1)(a))
  2. Interests (such as shares and bonds) in companies and business entities (clause 5(1)(b) and (2))
  3. Employment (clause 5(1)(c))
  4. Interests in trusts (clause 5(1)(d))
  5. Organisations and trusts seeking Government funding (clause 5(1)(e) and (3))
  6. Real property (clause 5(1)(f) and (1)(g))
  7. Superannuation schemes (clause 5(1)(h))
  8. Debtors (clauses 5(1)(i),5(4), 6, and 7)
  9. Creditors (clauses 5(1)(j), 5(4), 6, and 7)
  10. Overseas travel (clause 8(1)(a) and (2))
  11. Gifts (clause 8(1)(b) and (3))
  12. Discharged debts (clause 8(1)(c) and (4))
  13. Payments for activities (clause 8(1)(d) and (5)).

Registrar’s comments on returns process

My role as Registrar is to compile and maintain the Register, and provide advice and guidance to members in connection with their obligations. It remains the responsibility of individual members to submit a return that meets the requirements of Standing Orders.

Once again this year, individual members have sought my advice, or the advice of my office, to assist them to make their return. There were no matters of undue or general concern raised by members in their discussions with me, although some matters raised did underline, once again, that interpretation of the Standing Orders is still required on occasion.

The full provisions of Appendix B of Standing Orders, which set out the latest requirements of the Register, are reproduced in this report (page 67) for information purposes.

My assessment is that the revised Standing Orders, introduced in 2014, have led to improved transparency of members’ interests, for example in relation to gifts, and trusts. In this way, members’ returns can again be seen to have contributed to the purpose of the Register, which is to facilitate the transaction of the business of the House by promoting the highest standards of behaviour and conduct by members, and thereby strengthening public trust and confidence in parliamentary processes and decision-making.

The approach of the New Zealand Parliament to members’ interests can be compared to similar efforts in other democratic jurisdictions, particularly in the Westminster democracies, which all have their own form of Register. Public confidence in parliamentary processes and members’ conduct is a matter of ongoing interest in representative democracies worldwide and requires ongoing effort from members and parliamentary institutions to be sustained. I continue to observe developments in comparable jurisdictions with interest.

I was also pleased to have the opportunity to meet my counterparts in the House of Commons and House of Lords at Westminster, where issues surroundings members’ interests, and allowances and conditions, have been a matter of sustained public interest and strong criticism. Those conversations affirmed the importance of local context in designing systems for the registration of members’ interests.

In conclusion, I wish to note that although almost all members submitted their returns to me by the specified deadline, one was received shortly after the due date. I have nevertheless decided to include the contents of The Hon. Hekia Parata’s return in this report, in the interest of completeness.

Source (PDF): Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament: Summary of annual returns as at 31 January 2016

Members of Parliament (Code of Ethical Conduct) Bill

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.

Inefficient and ineffective MPs supported by the Clerk of Parliament

Ok, that’s not exactly what was said, but should MPs be given a free pass on their work ethics andhabits?

Wrong to ask MPs to work efficiently, panel told

Members of Parliament should not be compelled by law to work “efficiently and effectively” because delay was a legitimate political tool, a panel of MPs was told yesterday.

The Clerk of Parliament, Mary Harris, said she wanted the reference removed from the proposed Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill.

She told the committee that a requirement to be effective and efficient in some situations was inconsistent with reality.

“For example, Opposition members may see it as their legitimate duty to obstruct the progress of controversial Government legislation by filibustering in the House,” her submission said.

“Such a debating technique is time consuming and does not necessarily align with the usual perception of business efficiency.”

I don’t think anyone expects MPs work to “align with the usual perception of business efficiency”, but a reasonable degree of responsibility and performance should be expected.

The bill should not tell MPs how to do their jobs, she said.

“How members discharge their duties is a matter for them as members of the House and any attempt to dictate the way that they carry out their responsibilities could be regarded, in my view, as fettering the privilege of the House to control its own operation.”

Leaving them to decide how to “carry out their responsibilities” could be regarded, in my view, a free pass for open slather politics with no consideration of what ‘the people’ might want and expect of them.

Labour MP Trevor Mallard said every party in every democracy used the filibuster technique.

Yes, and they should be able to. But it’s a matter of frequency, degree and intent.

I don’t think the people like silly willy nilly filibustering.

In fact from what I hear there are many people who have had a gutsful of poor behaviour and performance from some MPs, and that can severely taintsthe performance of parliament as a whole.

Maybe it’s up to those MPs who do want to work efficiently and effectively to actively support what the people want and impress on their more inefficient and ineffective colleagues that they need to up their game and down their gamemanship.