Tasmanian federal MPs divided over code of conduct for politicians

Tony Fitzgerald QC
Tony Fitzgerald QC

Tasmanian MPs have expressed differing views on a proposed code of conduct for federal parliamentarians.

Former judge Tony Fitzgerald – who helmed the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which brought down former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen – has partnered with the Australia Institute to canvass federal politicians on ethical standards.

Of the 226 MPs, only 53 committed to the principles proposed by Mr Fitzgerald.

Not one of them was a government MP.

Members of the Coalition, however, are often advised not to participate in surveys.

The so-called Fitzgerald Principles include commitments to act honestly and fairly in public office, to treat all citizens equally, to tell the truth and not to spend public money unless it is for the benefit of the people.

Cabinet ministers are already required to abide by a Statement of Ministerial Standards, dictating that senior members of the government must uphold integrity.

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said he did not respond to questionnaires from the “Greens-run” Australia Institute, “due to its hyper-partisan nature”.

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“As a parliamentarian, I have taken an oath of office to serve God, Queen and country and seek to act in good faith to the best of my ability,” he said.

A spokesman for Tasmanian Liberal Senator David Bushby reiterated that it was not “Coalition practice” to respond to surveys.

He said Senator Bushby’s approach in public life had always been to “work to deliver the best possible outcomes for the people he represents and to maintain the highest possible standard of integrity in doing so”.

Meanwhile, Braddon Labor MHR Justine Keay, who was one of the 53 MPs who signed up to the principles, said there was now a popular “disenchantment” with the way politics was operating.

“The failure of a single Turnbull government member to sign up to these principles will only reinforce this community perception,” she said.

“It is … unfortunate, because the vast majority of federal MPs I have met, on all sides of politics, are genuine about wanting to [do] the best they can for their local electorates and nation.”

Bass Labor MHR Ross Hart also signed up to the principles, saying he felt “no hesitation”. 

“The questions attached to the survey seemed to me ... to reflect very reasonable ethical standards that anyone could be held to account by,” Mr Hart said.