Political Integrity: Parliament, Public Service, and the Parties

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Government integrity demands more than general expressions of goodwill - enhancing transparency and accountability requires supportive structures as well as declarations of priorities, says Senator John Faulkner.

In this speech to the University of Melbourne Law School, Senator Faulkner outlines the integrity challenges facing Parliaments, the public service and political parties - particularly Labor. 

Read the complete speech here

Towards the end of a wide-ranging speech that touched on Government transperancy, standards of conduct for elected representatives and electoral funding, Senator Faulkner examined the health of integrity in Labor. 

Labor must set the standard

"Principles of integrity, transparency, and accountability are crucially important to Labor’s reforming agenda, because faith in the political process is crucially important to the necessary consensus building which makes reform possible," Senator Faulkner said.   

"And those principles are crucially important to Labor’s core values of fairness and equality, because they safeguard our government and our polity against vested interests, self-interest and unfair advantage. "For these reasons, when it comes to political party accountability, Labor must set the best example. We have to practice what we preach," Senator Faulkner said. 

New South Wales Branch and ICAC 

"To have integrity, politicians must have the courage to defend their political principles and the strength to uphold their moral convictions, Senator Faulkner said. "Fail either of these two challenges and political integrity is an impossibility."  

"Recent ICAC hearings in NSW have seen serious allegations made that some Labor Parliamentary and Party representatives in NSW have failed these two challenges.  

"It is time to publically acknowledge that there have been some in our Party’s ranks with neither political principles to defend nor moral convictions to uphold.  

"They are a small minority, in a very big majority of decent, ethical, people. But the fact that they are few in number does not diminish the gravity of the accusations against them, or the seriousness of their acts."

Seven steps to real reform

"There are some key reforms to the rules and operation of the NSW Branch of the ALP that would go some way to changing the practices and the culture that have produced the recent unedifying spectacle in ICAC," Senator Faulkner said. 

"First, Party rules must be subject to the courts. Currently, Rule C1 “ Legal Status of Rules” states that the rules of the NSW Branch of the ALP are not judiciable.  There are serious doubts if this rule is even enforceable, nevertheless, that rule should be abolished, and replaced with a rule that makes it expressly clear that any action or decision within the NSW ALP can be challenged in a court of law. I further believe that the rules and decisions of all political parties should be judiciable, and that State and Federal Governments should consider making a party’s eligibility for public funding contingent upon it.  

"Secondly, all decisions about party disputes in NSW should be taken out of the hands of party bodies controlled by the factions, such as machinery committees, the Administrative Committee and Annual Conference. Currently, the membership of the party bodies empowered to resolve disputes and determine breaches of the rules are elected along factional lines. Those bodies invariably rule in line with factional self-interest. Flagrant breaches of the rules are swept under the carpet.  Those with the numbers crunch through determinations blatantly in contradiction of the facts. The factional minority is all too often quiescent, perhaps benefiting from a blind eye turned to their own misdeeds.

"All machinery committees in the NSW Branch should be abolished.  They should be replaced with a NSW ALP Appeals Tribunal comprised of eminent, ethical people, independent of the factions, to be the arbiter on internal party disputes. Such an approach was recommended nationally in the Hawke/Wran Review in 2001, but was watered down by the factions. The existing National Appeals Tribunal is weak and poorly resourced, and ultimately only makes “recommendations” to the National Executive, which is then able to make a final decision on a factional basis.  

"I propose a NSW ALP Appeals Tribunal of, say, 5 members, chaired by a retired judge, who hear cases as individual members determined by lot, with an appeal right to the “full bench” of the Tribunal if required. After that process has concluded I would favour no right of appeal to the Annual Conference – with decisions only open to review by the courts.
 
"Thirdly, the NSW Branch must establish a “one strike and you’re out” policy for any Labor Party member found guilty of acting corruptly either within or without the party. A culture has developed in the NSW Branch where, for some, being caught out at sharp practices is worn almost as a badge of honour. Our party would be immeasurably better off without such people. 
 
"Fourthly, we must change the party Rules to preselect Senate and Legislative Councillors by a ballot of the full Party membership within NSW – where every party member has an equal vote and an equal say. These ballots should be conducted by the AEC.  A new democratic preselection system will ensure that such decisions are not left to only a tiny coterie of union and factional leaders. I note that the Parliamentarians starring in ICAC’s recent hearings have been members or former members of the NSW Upper House – and like all of us preselected by NSW Labor for the State or Federal Upper Houses, they never needed to seek support from the members of the Party, but only from the factions.
 
"Fifthly, we must develop a Charter of Rights for members to ensure the integrity of the workings of the ALP. The charter should include:
 
A clear statement the Rules are binding on all party members;
Members have a right to equality before the Rules;
Members have a right to be heard;
Members have a right to stand for office;
Members have a right to seek redress of grievance before the NSW ALP Appeals Tribunal;
Members have a right to be respected by the leadership, elected parliamentarians and Party officials.
 
"Sixthly, a Party integrity advisory service – open to all Party members – should be established. This must be independent. All Party members must have the right to take concerns about the operation of the Party and its rules to an independent body for advice, and all Party members must have the right to be protected from any reprisals for so doing.
 
"Seventhly, the practice of factions, affiliates or interest groups binding parliamentarians in Parliamentary Party votes or ballots must be banned. I have said before that there is nothing wrong with people who share convictions on policy issues working together to progress those issues. There is, however, a great deal wrong with a situation where a Russian doll of nested caucuses sees a tiny minority of MPs exercising a controlling interest over the majority.  Labor’s principle of caucus solidarity, developed to ensure consistency with the Party Platform and stability in Parliament, depends for its integrity on democratic decision-making within Caucus. Factional binding is inherently undemocratic. It allows a group with 51% of a subfaction, which then makes up 51% of a faction, which in turn has 51% of the Caucus numbers, to force the entire Caucus to their position."
 
Senator Faulkner described the reforms as "essential to Labor’s future... (and) essential steps to restoring public faith in our political party and in the political system." 
Read the complete speech here.

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