Page 2812 - Week 08 - Tuesday, 5 August 2008
As members charged with a duty, the responsibility is a big responsibility. For a small parliament like this, the microscope is on us. It is a very intense place. The level of public scrutiny that we are exposed to in this place is very much a thing to consider. It really presupposes that members employing family members are on the take.
We have to have this debate and I am pleased to have this debate today. That is what it suggests. If we have to enshrine something in legislation that says, “You’re employing these people and you can’t, because it is people on the take and nepotism issues will be raised or there will be an issue where nepotism issues are raised and there will be conflicts of interest”, what will happen? As always in this place—I think others will speak about this—we stand up and declare an interest. That is also at the heart of this. If we employ family members, we already, under pecuniary interest declarations, have to make that known. It is already out in the public arena. Nobody is trying to do anything underhand or untoward.
I think that the code of conduct as it stands is fine. It does not enhance anything to add who we should or should not be employing. The rigour of that is already there. The rigour of that is already in place. We should know what we should or should not be doing as members. We certainly need to monitor the rigour of the code of conduct from time to time, which is what we have done now. I note that the government, like the opposition, has no particular comments to make at this time.
As well, when we look at a small parliament—as I said, we are much more in the spotlight than anywhere else in the world—the level of scrutiny is there. Tory MP Derek Conway in the UK was criticised, famously, for putting his two sons on the payroll. This comes from the MailOnline news dated 21 May 2008. It was interesting that Liberal MEP Chris Davies said:
Instead of outlawing nepotism entirely, the parliament should agree to better bookkeeping and more transparency … It shouldn’t be necessary to punish husband-and-wife teams in this way, but the truth is that while some relatives who are assistants do earn their salaries, others do not and the system is open to abuse.
That is going to be the case with any system, and it probably feeds into Mr Berry’s argument about this, but it should always start with believing the best in a person rather than doubting them or their intentions and attacking their integrity. In the British parliament, it seems to have been something that has not been covered, whereas, as I have said, here in our parliament, in our Assembly, we do have good checks and balances. We do have very open and accountable ways of knowing what a member is or is not doing, what a member is or is not getting remunerated for and who within that member’s office is also being remunerated.
In the UK, as the article says, “If there were proper accounting of parliament expenses it wouldn’t be necessary, but there isn’t.” Clearly they needed to do some tidying up there. Here I believe that we have quite an open system. I am disappointed that Mr Berry brings this on. It goes to the heart of and attacks the integrity of all members in this place to suggest that they would somehow do the wrong thing.
I am a little concerned. I certainly commend the report to the Assembly. I know that Mr Berry will be dissenting, as he said; he is adding his dissenting comments to the