Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (26 October) . . Page.. 2120 ..
MS FOLLETT (continuing):
Mr Speaker, the Standing Committee on Administration and Procedures made that statement back in 1991. I think it is a statement which still holds and which sets a standard which Assembly members ought to try to live up to.
There have been many other statements about conflict of interest in public life, mostly to do with the public sector. For example, the Department of Administrative Services - a department which, as members would know, frequently engages in businesslike activities - also has a code for handling conflict of interest by its officers. I think this code is particularly relevant as well. It says, in part, under the heading "Conflict of Interest":
An officer who has an interest, pecuniary or otherwise, that could conflict with the proper performance of his or her duties shall, as soon as possible after the relevant facts have come to the officer's notice:
a) disclose that interest to his or her supervisor, and
b) take whatever action is required to avoid that conflict.
Mr Speaker, when we were drawing up the Public Sector Management Bill for consideration by the Assembly, members might recall that a suitable code of conduct was very much an integral part of our consideration of that Bill. We asked Dr Claire Clark to draw up a discussion paper, a brief, on this matter. Dr Clark itemised a number of principles which might be included in such a code of conduct. At principle No. 8 she listed "Avoid conflict of interest". The explanation for this particular part of the code of conduct says that in this case public servants should "not allow, or be seen to allow, a conflict between private interests and public duty, declaring a potential conflict and immediately taking action to avoid that conflict".
Mr Speaker, under the explanation of that particular principle there are a number of points listed which ought to be considered and those points are: Allegiances to family and other relationships, involvement in particular interest groups, membership of political parties, the holding of a position or office where no remuneration is received and so on. In both of those two documents, both codes of conduct, I think there is a key statement, and that is that, where there is any possibility not just of an actual conflict of interest but of a perception of a conflict of interest, the onus is on the person concerned to take proper steps with their supervisor, or in this case with their Minister or Chief Minister, to avoid that conflict. That is what should have occurred here. It is my view that, upon the Minister and/or the Chief Minister coming to realise that a government contract for the disposal of government assets had been let to close business associates of a member of the Government, the Government should have taken action to avoid not just the conflict of interest but the appearance of conflict of interest. That is what a responsible standard of ethics requires; nothing less.
Mr Speaker, I believe that, on the issue of conflict between an MLA's private business and their public duty, we have heard a lot of hogwash from the Government. We have heard from the Chief Minister, on, I believe, a very spurious sort of equal rights argument, that we were in fact trying to discriminate against Mr Hird and/or his spouse.