Page 4080 - Week 13 - Thursday, 31 October 2013

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The government supports the independent oversight of the code, particularly in the event that members cannot resolve all issues themselves. In this context I have publicly stated that I agree to the concept of a standards commissioner. As the code of conduct is a statement of general ethical principles rather than a prescriptive set of rules, interpretive assistance will at times be necessary. Therefore, being able to call upon a person with the relevant expertise to assist with application of the code in specific circumstances will be beneficial.

It had been suggested that the current ethics and integrity adviser could perform a dual role by taking on the role of the commissioner for standards. I am glad that this is not being pursued as it could raise a potential conflict of interest, one which I think the ethics and integrity adviser pointed out to members. I think it is important to retain a separate ethics and integrity adviser who can provide advice to members when requested by members themselves and have a distinct commissioner for standards to investigate specific matters referred by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker.

While I believe a commissioner for standards is an important role to have on hand if problems arise, I am concerned about the potential cost this could place on the territory, especially if there are a few issues for the commissioner to consider, which we hope will not be the case. I have flagged this concern with members on several occasions and have made suggestions such as putting a suitable person or a panel on retainer to fill the position on an as needs basis. However, I believe the specific arrangements around engagement of the commissioner are appropriately the subject of further discussions once there is the agreement on this motion today.

In terms of the specific amendments to the motion as amended by Mr Hanson, one of these is aimed at strengthening the provisions around which the Speaker may refer a complaint to the commissioner for standards. Where the Speaker believes on reasonable grounds that there is sufficient evidence as to justify investigating the matter and where the complaint is not frivolous, vexatious or only for political advantage, the Speaker may refer the complaint to the commissioner for investigation and report. The initial wording had this as the commissioner for standards deciding if there are reasonable grounds on whether the complaint is frivolous, vexatious or only for political advantage.

There are further amendments which clarify that members of the public, members of the ACT public service and members of the Assembly may make a complaint to the Deputy Speaker, rather than to another member of the Assembly, about the Speaker’s compliance with the members’ code of conduct or the rules relating to the registration or declaration of interests. This provides a clearer point of reference for any such complaint.

The government will be supporting the amendments. In a sense, I hope the commissioner for standards does not ever need to be used. We have not had reason to have a commissioner for standards in the past. I think the appointment shows a growing maturity of the parliament and also a willingness to put in place measures that send a very strong message to members about expectations of their conduct as

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