A Parliamentary Code of Conduct

August 10th, 2006 at 8:03 am by David Farrar

I have had misgivings for some time over the growing view that the solution to the Field issue is a parliamentary code of ethics. I seem to recall some quote along the lines of you only need a code of ethics when you don’t have any!

The NZ Herald editorial today makes some great points:

A code is being contemplated now only because the Government fears to act more strongly against one of its own, Taito Phillip Field. It is a lame attempt to suggest that the code Mr Field appears to have broken was unclear, when it was not. All MPs know, surely without having to be told, that they do not accept any form of private payment for their public work.

There are two sides to any written code of conduct. On the positive side, it clarifies certain principles that its adherents must observe; on the negative, it permits anything that is not expressly forbidden.

Parties that propose a formal code in these circumstances do Parliament the ultimate disservice. It leaves the impression that Mr Field’s dealings with prospective immigrants were not unusual and that other members need reminding that they must refuse personal favours. What else is the public to infer?

This is the key really. Field’s action were not in any grey area. This talk of a code gives cover to his appalling judgement, by suggesting his judgement was not lacking. The Prime Minister still refuses to let the truth be known about the extent of Field’s actions. Labour can agree to
refer the issue to the Privileges Committee for investigation, or the PM, with no doubt unanimous support from all party leaders, could establish a commission of inquiry with actual powers to investigate.

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25 Responses to “A Parliamentary Code of Conduct”

  1. New Zeal () says:

    I have read that Field justifies acceptance of payment as a cultural tradition (koha). It is possible that this woolly interpretation of the situation is what leads Helen to be mute on this issue.

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  2. DaveC () says:

    As per in war – the victor writes history ! In this case, those with the power abuse it. Life goes on – nothing fundamentally changes. Even if we could kick them out, there is a neverending queue of power-mongers out there to replace them – all of similar selfish nature and disposition !
    Up them all !!

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  3. Linda () says:

    I don’t care if koha is accepted in the islands THIS is NZ! We don’t do it that way here, and you cannot tell me Field did not know that. Here, it’s just plain wrong to accept personal gain in that way.

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  4. gd () says:

    We should separate the Field matter from the Code of Conduct and Ethics matter.Any Code of Conduct and Ethics is a vehicle to regulate behaviour so that breaches can be identified and action taken to discipline the offender. Good Codes are non prescriptive so the lawyers can find wriggle room.They allow for the circumstances of each case to be judged against the principles of the Code.Good codes work well.Leaving aside the usual hysteria from some quarters professional bodies both in NZ and around the world have demonstrated how good self regulation can work to the benefit of the society in which the body operates.

    The problem is our Parliament has no Code to measure members behaviour against and to take action when breaches occur. So we have a culture where the inmates consider themselves immune.This has lead to an attitude of Dont do as we do Do as we say.The public are getting increasely annoyed and frustrated at this thumbing of the nose.

    Parliament doesnt have to reinvent the wheel There are other Parliaments around who have a Code and the professional bodies can provide them with a model. So its up to the poliies to explain why they wont be held to at least the same level of account that some of their members are held to as members of the professional bodies.And that is the irony.

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  5. Rachael () says:

    What will a Code of Ethics solve? All that would happen is Taito would get a $400 fine.
    Big deal!

    Real Estate agents have a Code of Ethics.
    Enough said!

    http://subs.nzherald.co.nz/search/story.cfm?storyid=000DF0DB-D561-1428-8A7483027AF10258

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  6. Larry Quiche () says:

    Do you really think a National Government would handle a Field like problem any differently, given the same precarious electoral consequences of losing an MP? Fair enough for National to make as much hay over this as possible, but it’s a bit disingenious don’t you think?

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  7. belt () says:

    Why don’t we microchip all MPs?

    It’s working for dogs, so surely it will do the same with wayward MPs!

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  8. New Zeal () says:

    Most codes of ethics belong to groups of people with similar professional qualifications eg: psychologists, doctors, real estate salespeople (apparently!). Politicians lack that uniformity of professional qualification. A code of ethics would need to be accompanied by a suitable certificate/diploma that a politician would need to acquire in order to sit in parliament. That the certificate would involve learning the code of ethics and apply it to some hypothetical situations is self-explanatory.

    I believe that a code of ethics is self-regulatory, and that any action is decided by the board of ethics that represent that particular group of people. Politicians would be judging themselves with respect to breaches of the code. The only lawyers involved would be politicians themselves (eg Chauvel). A code of ethics consists of guidelines, not laws.

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  9. gd () says:

    So Rachel I take it you would rather the pollies didnt have a Code and therefore could do whatever they liked with impunity. Codes arent perfect but like laws they are better than nothing. Members of professional bodies ( I dont rate real estate agents as a profession) stand to lose their meal ticket if they transgress and are struck off. Id call that a reasonably hefty penalty considering the years of training and speciaist nature of many. Sure if a polly could be chucked out another one would appear in their place but if that happened often enough it might bring the others to heel. And thats whats needed. To have these cretins taken down a peg or two.

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  10. side show bob () says:

    Whats the bet the Dear Leader will look at introducing a code of conduct in early 2009 as long as Lair bour has been returned to power of course.

    This little item will probably be number one on lair bour’s new pledge car.

    I’m afraid any code of conduct written up by MP,s will look like swiss cheese and any decent crown lawyer would be able to twist it to suit any “errors of judgement”.

    A code of conduct sould be compiled by an independent committee and be open to submissions from the general public, now that would really piss them off.

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  11. gd () says:

    Side show bob If you have a look at the Codes of professional bodies they all talk about behaviour bringing the body into disrepute They are deliberately non specific so each case can be decided on its merits.They work well in that governance is about judgement. Good governance equals good governance Bad judgement equals bad judgement. Common sense decides what is good judgement It aint rocket science.And thats why our pollies actions are so patently bad governance. Even those citizerns who dont understand governance concepts can understand right from wrong.

    And thats Clarks big problem She is so dumb and arrogant that she thinks if she says blacks white then everyone will believe her.

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  12. gd () says:

    Side show bob If you have a look at the Codes of professional bodies they all talk about behaviour bringing the body into disrepute They are deliberately non specific so each case can be decided on its merits.They work well in that governance is about judgement. Good judgement equals good governance Bad judgement equals bad governance. Common sense decides what is good judgement It aint rocket science.And thats why our pollies actions are so patently bad governance. Even those citizerns who dont understand governance concepts can understand right from wrong.

    And thats Clarks big problem She is so dumb and arrogant that she thinks if she says blacks white then everyone will believe her.

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  13. culma () says:

    Code of conduct what a joke, if those that grace the halls of the NZ parliament have no scruples then a code of conduct is as useless as as Damien O’Connor managing a building project.
    Although if he was having a house built for himself I could guarantee it would come in under budget.

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  14. Rachael () says:

    gd:
    I am not saying there shouldn’t be a Code of Ethics but it needs to be a well thought out process with little room for reading between lines.

    Also, a Code of Ethics is no use if the punishments are weak which is where the Real Estate Code breaks down. There have been some hugely dodgy things done but it only results in a fine – not a suspension of practising licenses. The same applies to Drs to some degree. Very few are struck off.

    If Real Estate isn’t a profession where does being a politician sit? Doctors, lawyers etc train for years to get where they are. Pollies don’t. All you need is to join a political party.

    Are we to set up a BPol (Bachelor of Politics) for all those who harbour the desire to represent their people and have a governing body that they all gain registration to.

    Maybe just a two week course for all those standing for election would suffice? (This is all you need for Real Estate!)

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  15. Rachael () says:

    gd:
    I am not saying there shouldn’t be a Code of Ethics but it needs to be a well thought out process with little room for reading between lines.

    Also, a Code of Ethics is no use if the punishments are weak which is where the Real Estate Code breaks down. There have been some hugely dodgy things done but it only results in a fine – not a suspension of practising licenses. The same applies to Drs to some degree. Very few are struck off.

    If Real Estate isn’t a profession where does being a politician sit? Doctors, lawyers etc train for years to get where they are. Pollies don’t. All you need is to join a political party.

    Are we to set up a BPol (Bachelor of Politics) for all those who harbour the desire to represent their people and have a governing body that they all gain registration to.

    Maybe just a two week course for all those standing for election would suffice? (This is all you need for Real Estate!)

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  16. gd () says:

    Rachel Well for a start all pollies should have to pass an IQ test That would eliminate most of them But seriously again I restate that the point of a Code is to set a standard that behaviour can be judged against
    And sorry You are wrong saying is should be a tight document The best Codes are those that prevent the lawyers finding a way around them.Some professional body Codes have been around for years and years and when a member breaches the Code they get thrown out no problem at all.These Codes have stood the test of time because they allow for a judgement to be made on the facts. If Field was a member of any NZ professional body he would be struck off No probs. How do I know Because other non pollies doing much less bad stuff than he did have been.If you go and ask the Law Society or Institute of Chartered Accountants they will show you their disciplinary files which are all public record. Good grief I know of one case where a 70 year old auditor who took on an audit that was outside his ability stuffed it up and he was chucked out He didnt steal any money He just got it wrong and after 45 years of practice was taken out and shot.Imagine if we had a Code like that for our pollies. Most of them would be gone gone gone Get it wrong and Foxtrot Oscar!!.Wonderful And thats why Clark doent want a Code Because she couldnt possibly live up to even the lightest one.

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  17. PabloR () says:

    There is a Samoan equivalent of koha, but I can’t remember for the life of me what it is called. Problem is, it seems so reasonable when they talk about a bunch of flowers or a batch of biscuits to say thank you for your help, but when you cross the line into things that are obviously more valuable, say, painting the house, that is exploiting your position and, IMHO, corrupt.

    I remember reading or hearing someone say that we white folks shouldn’t criticise such cultural practices because we don’t understand them. Bollocks. Those practices used to happen in Western civilisation and have mostly been eliminated, with good reason. We don’t need to start importing them back in.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m having a go at Samoans or Pacific Islanders, but one of the benefits of moving to NZ is that you don’t have to be under the thumb of tribal leaders or Ministers who claim to have your best interests at heart when they exploit you. The least he should be doing is giving up the Taito title, he’s not a fucking chief here…

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  18. PabloR () says:

    There is a Samoan equivalent of koha, but I can’t remember for the life of me what it is called. Problem is, it seems so reasonable when they talk about a bunch of flowers or a batch of biscuits to say thank you for your help, but when you cross the line into things that are obviously more valuable, say, painting the house, that is exploiting your position and, IMHO, corrupt.

    I remember reading or hearing someone say that we white folks shouldn’t criticise such cultural practices because we don’t understand them. Bollocks. Those practices used to happen in Western civilisation and have mostly been eliminated, with good reason. We don’t need to start importing them back in.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m having a go at Samoans or Pacific Islanders, but one of the benefits of moving to NZ is that you don’t have to be under the thumb of tribal leaders or Ministers who claim to have your best interests at heart when they exploit you. The least he should be doing is giving up the Taito title, he’s not a fucking chief here…

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  19. PabloR () says:

    There is a Samoan equivalent of koha, but I can’t remember for the life of me what it is called. Problem is, it seems so reasonable when they talk about a bunch of flowers or a batch of biscuits to say thank you for your help, but when you cross the line into things that are obviously more valuable, say, painting the house, that is exploiting your position and, IMHO, corrupt.

    I remember reading or hearing someone say that we white folks shouldn’t criticise such cultural practices because we don’t understand them. Bollocks. Those practices used to happen in Western civilisation and have mostly been eliminated, with good reason. We don’t need to start importing them back in.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m having a go at Samoans or Pacific Islanders, but one of the benefits of moving to NZ is that you don’t have to be under the thumb of tribal leaders or Ministers who claim to have your best interests at heart when they exploit you. The least he should be doing is giving up the Taito title, he’s not a fucking chief here…

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  20. PabloR () says:

    There is a Samoan equivalent of koha, but I can’t remember for the life of me what it is called. Problem is, it seems so reasonable when they talk about a bunch of flowers or a batch of biscuits to say thank you for your help, but when you cross the line into things that are obviously more valuable, say, painting the house, that is exploiting your position and, IMHO, corrupt.

    I remember reading or hearing someone say that we white folks shouldn’t criticise such cultural practices because we don’t understand them. Bollocks. Those practices used to happen in Western civilisation and have mostly been eliminated, with good reason. We don’t need to start importing them back in.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m having a go at Samoans or Pacific Islanders, but one of the benefits of moving to NZ is that you don’t have to be under the thumb of tribal leaders or Ministers who claim to have your best interests at heart when they exploit you. The least he should be doing is giving up the Taito title, he’s not a fucking chief here…

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  21. baxter () says:

    Iwonder if the Parliamentary code would ban urinating in hotel corridors, or fraudulently signing paintings as all your own work, and who would adjudicate on whether the code was breached.I suppose there would need to be a Commissioner appointed ,not sure by who, and a Political Complaints Authority.

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  22. david () says:

    Its called lafo Pablo. I’m afraid that a fair chunk of the samoan community is very much under the thumb of Tribal leaders, the ones who are called the ministers of the church…
    I would be interested if someone did a survey in Mangare as to how many actually know about the Field inquiry at all.
    BTW, I have always thought it incongrous that Samoans support Labour given their conservative religious leanings

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  23. George () says:

    I think a Code of Conduct would be beneficial, because we have MPs coming into politics from all walks of life and from all cultures.

    As a school trustee I have read conflict of interest rules and other similar information, and while the guidelines were to me common sense – it is said that common sense can be a very rare commodity in some circles.

    I don’t think it is helpful for the NZ Herald to say that making rules on some behaviours will mean that anything not covered by the rules will be allowable. This objection could apply to all rules for all organisations, sports, schools, etc.

    Guidance in this area could only be helpful in getting MPs oriented to their new environment. Its a form of training.

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  24. George () says:

    I think a Code of Conduct would be beneficial, because we have MPs coming into politics from all walks of life and from all cultures.

    As a school trustee I have read conflict of interest rules and other similar information, and while the guidelines were to me common sense – it is said that common sense can be a very rare commodity in some circles.

    I don’t think it is helpful for the NZ Herald to say that making rules on some behaviours will mean that anything not covered by the rules will be allowable. This objection could apply to all rules for all organisations, sports, schools, etc.

    Guidance in this area could only be helpful in getting MPs oriented to their new environment. Its a form of training.

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    car title loan

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