24 Jul 2020

Mallard releases Code of Conduct following bad behaviour in Parliament

5:49 pm on 24 July 2020

Parliament's referee Trevor Mallard has threatened to name and shame the worst-behaving MPs if he is left to enforce a new code of conduct.

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Trevor Mallard said he will take a much tougher approach to MPs and parliamentary staff who continue to behave badly. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The Speaker of the House released the values statement on Friday after a turbulent month in New Zealand politics which has seen three MPs' careers come crashing down due to bad behaviour.

Labour and the Greens have committed to signing up to the code, and the opposition National Party has indicated it will follow suit.

New Zealand First and ACT have yet to confirm their intentions to RNZ.

The code of conduct was drafted by a cross-party group of MPs led by National's Anne Tolley. It outlines seven key commitments to create a safer workplace and discourage bullying or harassment.

Mallard said the code was not compulsory and Parliament would not vote on it, but he hoped all political parties would get on board.

"I can't think of a good reason why a party would not sign up to it," Mallard told RNZ.

Speaker willing to name and shame

The statement was devised in the wake of the damning Debbie Francis report last year which painted a disturbing picture of behaviour within the corridors of power.

Francis recommended a code be introduced, as well as an "Independent Commission for Parliamentary Conduct" to investigate complaints.

MPs have so far failed to reach agreement over whether to set up a Commission, leaving the Speaker and party whips to enforce the code in the meantime.

Mallard said he had already begun requiring the worst-behaving MPs to undergo workplace training before being allowed staff in their offices.

He said if he saw no improvement in their behaviour, he would have no compunction about making the problems public.

"For very serious offenders and for people who don't learn the lesson the first time around, there is an obligation to make it transparent," Mallard said.

"I feel that I am almost involved in covering up bad behaviour when I'm involved in repeated complaints about the same MPs."

He said the vast majority of MPs and staff at Parliament were good people, but a minority were "regularly abusive of officials".

"We have people who are notorious for losing their diaries and their tempers at the same time when they end up in the wrong place."

Political parties react

In a statement, National leader Judith Collins said she would recommend to her colleagues at their next meeting that the party sign up to the code.

"I believe everyone who works at Parliament does so because they want to make this country a better place, even if we sometimes disagree on the best way to do that," Collins said.

"But there should be no disagreement when it comes to treating people with dignity and respect."

Labour MP Angie Warren-Clark, who was on the group which helped develop the code, said the caucus had signed on at the end of June.

Green Party workplace relations spokesperson Jan Logie welcomed the code's "timely release" and said it was an important step to improving the workplace.

In a statement, ACT leader David Seymour declined to say whether he would sign up, describing the code as a "noble attempt" at getting better behaviour.

"But, let's be honest, voters are the ultimate judge of MPs' behaviour," Seymour said.

"If the last week's shown anything, it's that voters know better than MPs what constitutes good behaviour anyway."

The code

Mallard said he hoped the "well-drafted" code would keep pressure on MPs to "pause and think before they act",

"There's no excuse to treat people badly. The world has moved on from where we used to be."

The code of conduct includes seven clear commitments:

  • Show that bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, are unacceptable
  • Speak up if we observe unacceptable behaviour
  • Use our position of power or influence to help others, and avoid harm
  • Act respectfully and professionally
  • Behave fairly and genuinely, treating others the way we would like to be treated
  • Encourage diverse perspectives, and the free and frank expressions of views
  • Foster an environment where people feel safe and valued

Officials begin review of Lees-Galloway's spending

Government officials have begun reviewing the spending of the former Cabinet minister Iain Lees-Galloway to ensure it was all above board.

The Prime Minister sacked Lees-Galloway, who had been the workplace relations minister, this week after he admitted having an affair with a former staffer.

Ministerial Services is now looking into his use of public funds, though it says most of the relevant data has already been reviewed and validated.

RNZ understands the Palmerston North MP also met up with the woman while in Paris on ministerial business in January.

There is no evidence to suggest any taxpayer money was used to cover her expenses.

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