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Fining politicians for bad behaviour could be ‘a tricky process’

Politicians behaving badly in recent years have reflected badly on Parliament.

Politicians behaving badly in recent years have reflected badly on Parliament. Photo: AAP

Politicians who behave badly could be fined more than $10,000 under a new plan, although introducing monetary sanctions for breaking parliamentary codes may prove “a tricky process,” a governance expert says.

A leaked draft showed on Tuesday that parliamentarians will face a fine of between 2 and 5 per cent of their base salary if they are found to have broken behaviour codes, once long-delayed legislation is introduced.

Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher confirmed the document was real.

“There will be sanctions imposed through this independent commission, that’s the whole point of it,” she said on ABC TV.

“The whole purpose is to look at complaints, and where complaints are substantiated, to implement sanctions against whoever that may be.”

Gallagher said the drafting of the legislation has involved the opposition and crossbench.

Robert McMahon, a visiting fellow at ANU and adjunct professor at the University of Canberra, told The New Daily uniting parliament behind the legislation will be challenging.

“Parliamentarians deal in the currency of reputation, rather than monetary impact,” he said.

“They have a degree of constitutional independence and I think fining them will be a tricky process.”

The draft behaviour code prohibits bullying, harassment, assault and discrimination on grounds of race, age, sex, sexuality, gender identity, disability and religion.

Independent commission

An Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission (IPSC), recommended by a review following the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in Parliament House, will administer the sanctions.

Led by former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, the review found that 37 per cent of people working in parliamentary workplaces reported personally experiencing bullying and 33 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment.

More than two years later, Australia is still months away from introducing a binding code for parliamentarians, Gallagher said.

“I’m very hopeful that we will have probably a draft that we would release publicly pretty soon,” she said.

“It would probably take until around October 1, 2024, to get up and running.”

The IPSC will arbitrate disputes and hand out sanctions for parliamentarians and staffers who break the code of conduct, with differing levels of punishment based on the severity of the breach.

Other punishments include the withholding of allowances, reduced budgets and dismissal from committees.

Politicians would be obligated to co-operate with investigations, maintain confidentiality of the complaint process and act if their staff are found to have committed misconduct.

According to the leaked draft, the IPSC would only have the discretion to publicly report on bad behaviour if the parliamentarian failed to comply with the sanctions.

McMahon said a more effective punishment than a monetary fine would be a public finding that the politician had acted inappropriately.

“That will give rise to electoral repercussions,” he said.

“I think that is probably more significant for them than some nominal fine.”

Past misbehaviour

Parliament has been rocked by several cases of alleged misconduct from staff and parliamentarians in recent years.

Two government cabinet members, Christian Porter and Alan Tudge, were accused of sexual misconduct by the ABC in November 2020.

robodebt probe

Christian Porter (middle) and Alan Tudge (right) were accused of inappropriate relationships with staffers while in office. Photo: AAP

The ABC accused Porter of being intimate with a colleague’s staffer, while Tudge had an affair with his media manager.

McMahon said there has been greater scrutiny of politician’s behaviour recently.

“In any other public sector workplace, it would be entirely unacceptable for a manager to have sexual relations with a staff member,” he said.

“Yet it needed to be codified under the Morrison government to prevent it, which shows you that they do carry on in their own way with their own rules.”

Porter denied the event occurred, but later stood down from Parliament after a further accusation of sexual misconduct.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was on the receiving end of a media storm after splaying himself on a Canberra footpath in February, which he attributed to mixing prescription medication and alcohol.

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