The current parliamentary sitting has been noteworthy for the attempts by the opposition to ‘ping’ Labor ministers for being in breach of the new code of conduct. It seems that the opposition have dedicated the time of their staff to combing through ministerial declarations of interests trying to find instances where a minister may be in breach of the new code.
Albanese has gone to some considerable lengths to present a ministerial code of conduct that leaves little wriggle room for ministers and clears up the loopholes that the former coalition government ministers were able to exploit.
In particular, the use of Blind Trusts has been outlawed : who can forget the use of a blind trust by former Attorney General Christian Porter to pay legal costs for a defamation action he launched against the ABC using funds, the source of which has never been disclosed.
The new code requires that: “Ministers will not have any direct shareholdings. Ministers are required to divest themselves of shareholdings, except in superannuation and other broadly diversified managed funds. There will be no ‘blind trust’ arrangements,” under this code.
“Ministers will be personally responsible for their private interests. Ministers won’t be allowed to delegate that responsibility to anyone else, such as in a ‘blind trust’ arrangement.”
This is the full code for those interested.
Probably the only criticism of this code is that, in trying to be proscriptive it can be confusing as Attorney General Mark Dreyfus found in Question Time on Thursday following a barrage of questions over his self-managed superannuation fund : fortunately the code allows for external scrutiny and advice in circumstances where there is ambiguity which seems to be the case with Dreyfus.
On the positive side, it is good that the Albanese government has moved quickly to update the code of conduct for ministers and to address some of the glaring omissions of the past – for instance as was noted in the parliament on Thursday pretty well all of the former governments’ ministers would have been in breach of this code of conduct and several engaged in multiple breaches.
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