Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NSW Ethics Shmethics

The last Liberal-National government in NSW was led by Nick Greiner. In 1992 the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which he established, found him to have acted corruptly. This was later overturned in the courts, because what he did in offering Terry Metherell a senior Public Service position was not illegal, and there were no ethical standards for politicians.

Ian Temby found Premier Nick Greiner had acted corruptly. Greiner had offered a place to Terry Metherell with the purpose of removing him from Parliament to the advantage of the governing party. Eventually, the courts found in Greiner's favour. The court's reasoning was that Greiner had not acted illegally. The sole basis for a finding of corruption was, therefore, if he had breached a code of behaviour by which he was bound. The courts found that, although public servants and other officials were bound by well established codes of behaviour, politicians were subject to none of them. In effect, unless they break the law, politicians can’t be corrupt in NSW because they have no ethics.” (Chis Hurley, 2004) http://www.infotech.monash.edu.au/research/groups/rcrg/publications/0406rmethicsch.pdf

The irony was that Nick Greiner had campaigned partly on the alleged corruption of the previous, Labor, NSW Government, led by Neville Wran.


NSW voters, individually and collectively, have a good sense of what is right and wrong. Many see the last-minute changes to regulations by Planning Minster Tony Kelly, to the benefit of Lend Lease, as being unethical, even if not unlawful. So, too, the allegations of document shredding by Labor Ministers and staff will be seen by many as corrupt. It has been reported that current Labor Premier, Kristina Kenneally, has ordered the destruction of “thousands” of potentially damaging sensitive documents, and that she “expect(s) all public servants, be they in the bureaucracy or government advisers, to be following that direction” 



There is a NSW Parliamentary Ethics Committee. The NSW Parliament website says:

“This Committee has the function of carrying out educative work in relation to ethical standards applying to Members of the Legislative Assembly as well as providing advice on the standards. The Committee can also consider matters of privilege referred by the House.”

However, the Committee can not take any action against any member, even if the member is deemed to have acted unethically! It is toothless.


Many people believe political ethics have taken a beating under the current Labor Government. But will an incoming Liberal-National government change the rules if those rules mean its own members & Ministers must adhere to a set of standards not previously achieved in NSW? Remember, too, that elements within the Liberal Party are opposed to ethics classes in NSW public schools.


Will anything change? Ethics, Shmethics, if you ask me.