Parliamentary Code of Conduct

Ann Webster

TINZ Director with Focus areas: Constitution, Government,

National Integrity Systems, Parliamentary Liaison, Public Service

When Parliament adjourned this month for the election, the Speaker of the House, Hon Trevor Mallard gave a challenge to the five parties of the outgoing Parliament - to improve the conduct of Parliamentary business when it reconvenes after the election. He released a proposed Parliamentary Code of Conduct in July 2020, after many years of lobbying by Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) and others.

The code opens the door for all Parliamentarians elected in October 2020 to walk into the House ready to create a place of democratic debate based on respect for all people - and on the highest standards of integrity.

Francis Report

The genesis of the code reflects that, despite the gravitas, working in the hothouse of Parliament is brutal. Recommended by the Francis Report, the code is part of proposals to make Parliament a safer working environment, from one where unacceptable conduct had become "normalised”. The report describes Parliament as a workplace of high pressure, long hours, unusual and complex employment arrangements, intense media scrutiny and a high level of competition even within individual political parties.

This complex environment creates pressure on standards of integrity, such as the transparency of political lobbying and the funding of political parties. TINZ has been raising concerns about these and other integrity matters with Parliament, and identifying the opportunity the code provides for integrity reform.

Cross-party support

Although not compulsory nor to be put to a vote, Trevor Mallard hoped all political parties would support the code, which was drafted by a cross-party group of MPs led by the outgoing Deputy Speaker, Hon Anne Tolley.

Disappointingly, it is not yet clear that all parties expect their MPs and staff to commit to the code. Nor has agreement been reached to a further recommendation of the Francis report to establish an "Independent Commission for Parliamentary Conduct" to investigate code complaints.

Pivotal opportunity

The effectiveness of the code depends fundamentally on the conduct of MPs and others working in Parliament. But without a Commission mechanism for considering conduct concerns, its effectiveness is unclear. Until Parliament, adjourned, Mallard had signalled that he, with party whips, was prepared to be responsible for enforcement. When Parliament reconvenes following the election, the new and returning MPs will have a brief and pivotal opportunity to reshape and set a new tone for the conduct of Parliament. TINZ will be urging them to seize that chance.

Key requirements

The proposed Code, Upholding the Mana of Pāremata Aotearoa, New Zealand Parliament, asks people working in Parliament to:

  • Show that bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, are unacceptable
  • Speak up if they observe unacceptable behaviour
  • Use their position of power or influence to help others, and avoid harm
  • Act respectfully and professionally
  • Behave fairly and genuinely, treating others the way they would like to be treated
  • Encourage diverse perspectives, and the free and frank expressions of views
  • Foster an environment where people feel safe and valued.

Further opportunities

The proposed code of conduct’s primary focus is to address the important issues of inappropriate sexual conduct and bullying. It is missing an opportunity to further address Parliamentary conduct by ignoring several recommendations of TINZ’s National Integrity System Assessments of 2003, 2013 and 2018.

The code of conduct needs to go further to support Parliamentary reform including:

  • ensuring lobbying transparency
  • requiring stronger independent oversight of MPs travel expenses.
  • Improving transparency in the administration of Parliament (as distinct from its legislative work).
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