The Victorian Government has updated its Ministerial Code of Conduct as it seeks to strengthen the focus on conduct, integrity and probity for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.
The new Code of Conduct came into force on 1 December, and sets new expectations for diversity and inclusion, the use of official information, assets, and electronic communications, as well as compliance with Westminster and caretaker conventions.
The update came as a result of recommendations made in the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) of the Victorian Ombudsman’s Operation Watts special report, and IBAC’s Operation Daintree special report.
The joint IBAC and Victorian Ombudsman investigation was initiated after two referrals, from the Attorney-General to IBAC and from the Legislative Council to the Ombudsman. These referrals alleged ‘branch stacking’ involving misuse of public funds by certain Labor members of Parliament.
The investigation examined allegations of misuse of electorate offices, ministerial office staff and resources for branch stacking and other party-related activities. It found occurrences of hiring unqualified people into publicly funded roles, using those roles to support factional work, nepotism, forging signatures, bullying behaviours, and attempts to interfere with government grants.
A statement from Premier Jacinta Allen says the new Code of Conduct builds on the government’s work to deliver what she described as “the most significant overhaul of parliamentary oversight in Australia”. She added that consultation was underway on establishing a Parliamentary Integrity Commission to investigate allegations of misconduct by Members of Parliament, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.
New reporting obligations have been added to improve transparency of ministerial interests. It now requires Ministers to:
- Disclose interests and declare conflicts for publication in the newly established ministerial register of interests;
- Disclose accepted gifts, benefits, and hospitality for publication in the ministerial register of gifts, benefits, and hospitality;
- Publish quarterly diary summaries containing details of scheduled meetings with stakeholders, external organisations and third-party lobbyists.
Additionally, ministers will be prohibited from employing family members as staff or in certain public sector bodies.
Premier Allan said: “The updated Code of Conduct will hold Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries to the highest standards – that’s what all Victorians expect and deserve.”
Deputy Premier Ben Carroll added: “We’ve already delivered the most significant overhaul of parliamentary oversight in the country, and this is the next step – providing a modern framework that will continue to ensure public confidence in government”.