Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageTony Abbott opens the campaign office for Liberal candidate Ken Wyatt in 2010. Now he and all incumbent MPs enjoy a $300,000 advantage over their challengers at the next election. AAP/Dean Lewins

The 2015-16 Commonwealth budget’s “Stronger Communities” slush fund for every lower house MP raises serious questions. The allocation of $150,000 a year to every MP’s electorate risks seducing and trapping MPs into unethical behaviour that conflicts with new benchmarks for parliamentary codes of conduct.

The allocation, at a total cost of $45 million over two years, is wrong on two counts.

Firstly, taxpayers’ money is being used to buy advantage for government MPs compared to their opponents at the next election, whether opposition, minor party or independent candidates. Because Tony Abbott’s Coalition government has more MPs – they occupy 90 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives – more of the money will go to government-held electorates.

image

The Coalition’s marginal seat MPs will be especially advantaged. Incumbent MPs will be able to splash around taxpayers' money – an extra $300,000 each over the next two years – to curry favour from voters. Their opponents in these electorates will have no access to public money for projects to strengthen the same local community.

Secondly, these slush funds have a sorry record of corrupt use by MPs to benefit themselves, family friends and supporters. Known as constituency development funds (CDFs) in other countries, they are notorious for diversion and misuse. They have been spent on everything from non-existent “consultant’s reports” to urgent, expensive medical treatment for individual constituents.

Federal MPs have no code of conduct

The risk of misuse is greater in the Australian Parliament because it has no code of conduct to guide MPs on ethical behaviour.

Two things should happen. As a matter of principle, the “Stronger Communities” money should be removed from political influence. The money should be administered by public servants to fund projects according to national priorities, not vote-buying. imageA code of conduct for MPs based on internationally accepted principles of public life is ready for the federal parliament to adopt.Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

Even more importantly, the parliament should adopt and enforce a code of conduct, using the new Benchmarks for Codes of Conduct recently developed by my team based at Monash University working with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

The CPA benchmarks aim to strengthen parliamentary performance and fill a serious gap in how to deal with unethical behaviour by members of parliament. Research suggests that unethical behaviour undermines reputations, legitimacy and performance. Effective parliamentary codes greatly reduce the corrosive risks of unethical behaviour.

Underpinning the CPA benchmarks are fundamental concepts which must be reflected in codes. Thus every MP must understand that he or she is a public officer, entrusted to act on behalf of the public in general.

MPs must put public interest first

An MP is not free to act in his or her own interest or that of anyone else except the public. This also means that political parties must put the public interest first. These concepts relate to essential features of parliament which are crucial to good governance.

The code also rests on principles including the internationally respected Principles of Public Life: selflessness; integrity; objectivity; accountability; openness; honesty; and leadership. These ethical principles can be traced back to Queensland’s Fitzgerald Royal Commission, which investigated rampant corruption in the state government. The principles were further developed by Lord Nolan almost 20 years ago.

Corruption in politics is a constant risk, not just a product of the occasional “bad apple”, according to research extending over decades in many countries. It requires eternal vigilance backed up by effective codes that are strongly enforced.

Our research identified three key features of an effective code:

  • clear standards of expected behaviour

  • ethical training and advice

  • independent investigation of alleged breaches.

The history of political corruption around the world confirms that sooner or later, some MPs will succumb to the temptation to rort the “Stronger Communities” slush fund. MPS will advise on and are likely to have influence in the selection of projects in their electorates. The temptation to misuse public money to win votes is particularly strong in marginal seats.

The absence of a code of conduct adds to the risk. The lack of an independent adviser with whom MPs can discuss the ethics of “Stronger Communities” proposals is yet another weakness, which heightens the risks of the program becoming a slush fund.

Prime Minister Abbott would have had severe doubts about the ethics of the “Stronger Communities” funding if he had followed the principles recommended in the CPA benchmarks. It is hard to argue that advantaging the incumbent majority of Coalition MPs is in the public interest. Rather, it undermines public confidence in the fair use of taxpayers’ funds.

Australia is out step with the many other democratic parliaments that have and enforce a code of conduct. These parliaments are expected to apply the CPA benchmarks to the structure and functions of their codes of conduct, and so help avoid MPs being trapped through schemes like the “Stronger Communities” slush fund.


Acknowledgement: The Benchmarks for Codes of Conduct applying to members of parliament is available here. It has been funded by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) in partnership with Monash University. The CPA is the international association of national, provincial/state, territory parliaments of the UK and its former colonies – almost 200 houses of parliament.

Ken Coghill is a former Speaker and Member of the Victorian Parliament and is a life member of the Australian Labor Party.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/budgets-45m-slush-fund-for-mps-is-an-unethical-use-of-public-money-42116

Writers Wanted

Vital Signs: Google's huge market share doesn't automatically make it a monopoly

arrow_forward

How to Get Direct Auto Insurance No Credit Check in Texas

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Luke Lazarus Helps Turns Startups into Global Stalwarts

There are many positive aspects to globalization. It is no secret that those who have been impacted by globalization tend to enjoy a higher standard of living in general. One factor that has led to ...

Emma Davidson - avatar Emma Davidson

Digital-based strategies that grow and expand your business

Small and medium-sized businesses are increasingly relying on new technology solutions to strengthen their product development, marketing, and customer engagement activities. Technology adoption...

News Co - avatar News Co

What Few People Know About Painters

What do you look for when renting a house? Most potential tenants look for the general appearance of a house. If the house is poorly decorated, they are likely to turn you off. A painter Adelaide ...

News Co - avatar News Co



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion