The Labor MP Kate Thwaites has backed calls for fellow members to be sacked for serious breaches of a proposed new parliamentary code of conduct, saying consequences are “vital” to ending the “political culture of impunity” in Canberra.
Thwaites, who co-wrote an essay on Australia’s political culture with Labor heavyweight Jenny Macklin last year, said she agreed with the independent MP Kylea Tink’s view that MPs should be expelled from parliament for extreme breaches of a new code of conduct.
However, while Tink had suggested the new independent commission for corruption could adjudicate the code, Thwaites is proposing that Australia follow the UK’s model which has an independent expert panel that determines sanctions in cases involving an allegation of misconduct against an MP.
The UK panel is empowered to recommend sanctions commensurate with a breach of its code following an investigation by an independent commissioner. The panel then recommends sanctions, which can include ordering an apology to the complainant, suspension of pay, or expulsion from the house “in the most serious cases”.
It is then up to parliament to vote on the recommendation.
Thwaites said that the model ensured there was independence for the decision-making body, but still gave parliament the final say.
“There’s a difference between having a model that still has an involvement for parliament – which then by de facto has got the agreement of members of parliament that this is a necessary step to make sure that the parliament is not a place where you can behave with impunity – and a model where it is taken out of the hands of the parliament, which really does raise constitutional questions and questions around elected people being removed,” Thwaites told Guardian Australia.
“Taking that to an independent panel means that there is a place where people can raise problems, and when it comes back to parliament, that independent panel can recommend the most serious sanction of suspension or expulsion of a member.”
While the government of the day would then have the ability to resist the recommendation through its control of the numbers in the House of Representatives, Thwaites said “the weight of public opinion is then on the government and the parliament”.
“Obviously, we have a disciplined parliament and people do tend to vote within party lines, but I also think my fellow MPs care about their workplace and care about the standards they set,” said Thwaites, who represents the Victorian electorate of Jagajaga.
“It would be a big thing for a government when an independent body that’s been properly set up with experts comes back and says ‘we think this is at the most serious end of these types of workplace bullying and harassment problems, and we’re recommending the most serious of sanctions on that’, for the parliament to then say, ‘well, no, we don’t agree’.”
Thwaites said that she believed serious consequences for MPs were necessary to achieve cultural change and to bring the parliament in line with other organisations in Australia.
“I think it’s vital,” Thwaites said. “We can’t continue to have a parliament that doesn’t hold itself to the highest possible standards and we can’t continue to have a parliament that is so far out of step with other workplaces across Australia, and a parliament where Australian women can’t be sure that they will be in a safe workplace.
“In other workplaces across Australia, there are generally clear standards of behaviour, clear rules that people agree to when they’re employed, and they understand that the consequences of not following those roles could include losing their jobs – there’s no reason why the parliament should be different to that.”
A review undertaken by Kate Jenkins into the workplace culture of parliament also raised concerns about the lack of consequences for MPs, finding that there was a perception “that senior staff and leaders who engaged in misconduct were not held accountable for their actions”.
“The Commission also heard about the difficulty of sanctioning parliamentarians who engaged in misconduct, because they do not have an ‘employer’. As one participant put it, ‘[t]here are no ramifications for bad behaviour because there is no risk of MPs getting fired, or otherwise being held accountable for their actions’,” the report found.
The Albanese government has committed to implementing all of the review’s 28 recommendations, with expectations that a leadership taskforce overseeing the changes will be reformed once parliament returns later this month.
Source: The Guardian