Date: May 15 2012
Federal MPs can't even make a decision on a code of conduct when given the chance.
This sort of failure has happened repeatedly, usually by taking so long that an election wipes out their work.
This doesn't imbue voters with confidence that their elected representatives are willing to clean up Parliament.
The Independents are putting the issue back on the agenda in the wake of the Craig Thomson saga.
The House waits eagerly to hear whether his response next week to Fair Work Australia's allegations that he misused $500,000 of union funds, will pass the believability test.
However, a House of Representatives committee fumbled the code of conduct issue when asked recently to give a view.
Like previous Parliaments, the members of the standing committee of privileges and members' interests threw in the towel.
They had a look after Julia Gillard agreed to have a look, as part of the many items agreed with the Independents and Greens to secure their support for a minority Labor government.
But the report from the committee, tabled last November, found the competing arguments too difficult to adjudicate.
''The committee has decided not to reach a concluded view on the merits of adopting a code of conduct and now presents its work on the inquiry as a discussion paper,'' it says.
If the code is such a good idea, why hasn't this or a previous Parliament been able to come to grips with it?
The key reason appears to be the objections of the MPs themselves.
Those who are in favour say it won't change anything and could be ridiculed as a futile gesture.
Those against argue it might stifle their constitutional right to represent their constituents.
''A code of conduct might impose restrictions on members that would prevent them from freely and fully performing their duties,'' the report coyly says.
Even if the committee was able to jump this first, albeit major, hurdle, how would such a code be framed, and enforced?
Ironically, the committee notes that its inquiry was taking place last year ''in an environment of reform rather than one of crisis''.
''[This] provides the House with an opportunity to take the initiative, and members, a valuable time for measured self-reflection,'' it says.
If they couldn't do it then, in relative calm, what hope is there now? But that committee can't be singled out for particular criticism when previous parliaments have also failed, as detailed in the report.
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