11 April 2022
Independent Senator Rex Patrick today announced his plans for pursuing Parliamentary reform in the 47th Parliament.
“Fixing Australia’s broken politics is absolutely essential to restore confidence in our democracy and to achieve better outcomes across all areas of public policy,” Senator Patrick said.
“As an independent Senator I’ve used every opportunity available to me to press for greater transparency and accountability from Government Ministers and public servants. However the past four and a half years of service have left me in no doubt that the Federal Parliament is deeply dysfunctional and our politics corrupted.”
“Fixing Parliament is a large and complex task, but we have to be ambitious in our goals. We certainly can’t accept the tired refrain of the major parties that these things aren’t that important and that only minor changes are required.”
“For far too long Parliament has operated like a private club, organised by and run in the interests of the big political parties with little regard to the democratic accountability. The Federal Parliament now lags far behind most State and Territory Parliaments in terms of the enactment of Codes of Conduct for MPs, ethics standards and key accountability mechanisms. This must change.”
“If re-elected as an independent Senator for South Australia, I will be pushing a multifaceted reform program, to restore faith in our democracy."
The key elements of which are:
- Establishment of a Federal Integrity Commission with teeth; that is with the powers of a standing Royal Commission to compel witnesses and obtain documents, to investigate parliamentarians and public servants alike, and to hold public hearings if considered necessary.
- Enactment of a formal Code of Conduct for MPs and Senators with legislated penalties for non-compliance. Alleged major violations of the Code should be referred to the Integrity Commission for investigation and a report to the relevant House of Parliament.
- Establishment of an Office of the Parliamentary Ethics Commissioner empowered to provide advice to individual MPs and the Parliament as a whole on the implementation and compliance with the Code of Conduct and any other ethical questions that relate to the duties and responsibilities of Parliamentarians.
- Reform of the Registers of Members and Senators’ Interests to provide much greater transparency for MPs financial holdings, including the size of investments and shareholdings. Deliberate concealment of interests should be a matter for referral to the Integrity Commission and appropriate penalties. The Registers should be fully digitised to enable the public and media to search for information with ease.
- Ending the current exemption for Parliamentarians and their staff from the transparency and reporting obligations of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. MPs and Senators should not be treated differently from all other Australian citizens and permanent residents.
- Reforming Question Time in the House of Representative and the Senate by increasing the available time, allowing more questions and limiting ‘Dorothy Dixer’ questions from Government MPs and Senators to one third of the total time each sitting day.
- Private MPs and Senators business including legislation must be voted on within a fixed period, with no Government or Opposition veto on having a vote.
- Requiring Ministerial diaries and appointment lists to be regularly tabled in the House of Representatives and Senate with the only allowed exemptions being for appointments relating to national security matters.
- Requiring Ministers who are members of the House of Representatives to attend Senate Estimates Committee hearings and directly account for their administration of their portfolios, departments and agencies.
- Requiring all Questions on Notice to be answered by Ministers within 14 days with repeated non-compliance to result in automatic financial penalties that compound the longer a question remains unanswered.
- Establishing a public register of lobbyists allowed access to Parliament House including the identities of MPs and Senators who have sponsored passes for such persons.
- A ban on all political fundraising events at Parliament House with any violations of such a ban to be referred to the Integrity Commission and subject to large financial penalties, at least three times the amount of any money raised or planned to be raised.”
“Achieving greater transparency and accountability from the Government has been a major focus in my work as a Senator," Senator Patrick said. "I've used every Parliamentary process and procedure available to me, but it's an uphill fight when the big parties have stacked the deck."
"I'm determined to pursue these reforms in cooperation with other independent Senators and MPs, and through negotiation with both Government and Opposition."
“If the Coalition or Labor wish to secure my support, they'll have to demonstrate their commitment to Parliamentary reform, not just through talk but through action."
“Of course, parliamentary reform is only part of the solution for our broken political system, and I’ll have more to say about other issues including political donations reform and fixing our Freedom of Information system during the election campaign.”
"However, if we don’t fix Parliament, then our politics will certainly continue along the same grubby path that it has been.”
“Australians are sick and tired of the cheap politics and poor ethical standards all too often on display in our national Parliament. There is a real appetite for reform and we should seize what may be a rare opportunity in the 47th Parliament to change things for the better.”