Fair Agenda's opening statement to the Committee on Parliamentary Standards

Fair Agenda has been invited to appear before the Committee of federal MPs and Senators who are developing the draft MP Code of Conduct. 

Here's what we shared on behalf of Fair Agenda members.

Opening statement part 1, delivered by Renee Carr, Executive Director of Fair Agenda:

Fair Agenda is a national, independent campaigning organisation advocating for gender equity. We have over 43,000 members around the country that are jointly working for a future where we can all have safety, security and agency over our lives and bodies - no matter our gender.

Our members are active across a range of gender equity issues. In recent years our movement has helped to decriminalise abortion in Qld, NSW and SA; pushed dozens of university residences to improve their training to prevent sexual violence; and advocated for state and federal reforms to improve responses to gender-based violence.

Our members have expressed significant dismay and distress at the crisis of gender-based violence across the country and across our communities and  have campaigned for improvements to prevention and responses to gender-based violence.

We know that to prevent gender-based violence at a societal level, we must address gender inequality - including attitudes of disrespect and power imbalances.

We welcomed the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s recommendation that parliament should approach this reform process with an expectation that federal parliament set the standard for workplace culture.

Given the responsibility and power of the federal parliament in making decisions that affect all our lives; we believe we need a system that holds our parliamentarians to a standard that reflects the responsibility they have over the lives of the Australian community. 

In preparing our submission to this Committee we asked our members a series of questions, including: how the many allegations made against parliamentarians last year made them feel, why they considered integrity in Parliament is important, and what are the values they would like elected leaders to exhibit. 

We had nearly 200 responses with members collectively contributing over 36 hours of time to answer those questions. We have reflected the responses of our members in word clouds and quotes within our submission. 

A quote from our members, which we feel captures a lot of the sentiment expressed is as follows: “A person who acts with integrity is trustworthy. We must be able to trust our MPs to work for the national best interest, and to represent Australia to the rest of the world.”


Opening statement Part 2, delivered by Alyssa Shaw, Campaign Manager at Fair Agenda:

Fair Agenda’s submission has been drafted with a focus on a Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians. Noting that we support the Set the Standard recommendations for three Codes for Parliamentarians, Parliamentary staff and the Parliamentary precinct. 

In approaching this, we have tried to think through a strengths based frame of what a Parliament that upholds Australian values, and public expectations, would look like. 

Fundamental to this is a Code that articulates strong values, as a basis to ground and guide behaviours and attitudes within Parliament. Creating cultural change is challenging, but we believe enunciating clear and consistent values that everyone understands and upholds, will support this process. 


Regarding the content of the code, our key recommendations are that The content of a Code should include:

  • General principles of good conduct and character  should apply to all parliamentarians. A code should also articulate values that underpin all conduct in Parliament. Values such as respect, inclusion and honesty came up as prominent values to include for Fair Agenda members. 
  • We also support specifying behaviors that should be explicitly prohibited. Including behaviours that relate to gender-based violence, inequity and discrimination. This includes the explicit exclusion of sexual harassment, sexual assault, bullying and harassment, and discrimination such as racism and homophobia.  

Regarding enforcement of the Code - how it is investigated and the role of sanctions

  • Fair Agenda supports the establishment of an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission (IPSC) to investigate, report and make recommendations of sanctions for any breach of the Code. 
  • We believe it is critical that in investigating and enforcing the Code, the role of parliamentarians with additional responsibilities, such as Ministers, should be considered and inform any sanction or recommended response
  • Fair Agenda believe there should be an expectation of public reporting regarding breaches of the MP Code, however this also needs to consider the nature of the allegation e.g. sexual assault, and the consent and confidentiality of victim-survivors.
  • We also believe it is important that when the IPSC makes findings about breaches the IPSC can also recommend a broad range of sanctions; and for this to be reported in a way that supports transparency and public accountability. Our recommendation is that a norm be set that overall findings and recommendations about any breach of the MP Code be made public. 

Regarding the process for implementing the Code

  • We believe that the Code should be under the purview of the Parliament as a whole and should therefore be legislated
  • That there should be a review period as part of this current process to ensure the Code has a high degree of rigour. 

Regarding how to apply the Code in practice:

  • We believe it is critical that the scope of the code includes both professional and personal conduct. Specifically, Fair Agenda asks the Committee to consider a Code that applies to any personal conduct that is relevant to a members’ parliamentary duties and responsibilities. 
  • We have provided comments to the Committee that aim to support how the Code will interact and sit alongside existing rules around parliamentary conduct, such as parliamentary privilege and standing orders
  • Fair Agenda has also provided a test, or thought experiment, which we believe reflects our member’s expectations around the efficacy of a Code and its investigation of alleged breaches.
    In line with our member’s desire to see a proper and consistent process in place to deal with all allegations of gender-based violence and misconduct; we believe that the Committee should ensure that the substance of the MP Code of Conduct would - if it were in place during the last parliament - have provided an avenue for independent investigation of those allegations against MPs, as a potential breach of the Code. To be clear, we do not believe the Code should apply to conduct of those no longer in this parliament - but rather propose this as a test of whether the Code’s substance and investigation powers are effective; and meet public expectations. Last year our members were particularly dismayed and galvanised about the inadequacy of the process to deal with the allegations that were made against then Attorney-General Christian Porter. We want to ensure that the lack of clear, consistent and independent process for review of such allegations is addressed.


In addition to our submission, Fair Agenda has spoken and read a number of other organisational submissions, and reviewed previous sessions of the public hearings for the Committee. As such, there are some additional comments we would like to make to the Committee which we hope might be of help in your deliberations. 


Regarding the role and function of the IPSC - it’s interaction with other rules, bodies, support services and drawing a distinction as to when matters are referred to this body:

  • We reiterate that we consider the IPSC should sit as a puzzle piece alongside other rules, such as standing orders - and expect that to an extent enforcement of the Code is decentralised to leaders within parliamentary spaces e.g. President in the Senate or the Chair of a Committee. 
  • Not withstanding this, we believe there should be scope for actions and behaviours considered a breach of the Code to be referred to the IPSC if they are egregious, consistent or particularly targeted in nature.
  • We expect the IPSC would interact with the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service. We understand that complaints that have been brought through the PWSS have had a high success rate of being resolved. We would like to note that it is important to tease out how the PWSS and IPSC will interact, and to ensure that this interaction, particularly when it comes to supporting people who have experienced sexual assault or other traumatic events is consistent with best practice and trauma-informed. We support this being extended to bullying, harassment and other misconduct. 

Regarding sanctions

  • Fair Agenda supports a breadth of sanctions. This is important so that sanction recommendations and action can be proportionate to the issue, and consider the role of the parliamentarian.
  • At this stage we do not expect  sanctions that would include expelling parliamentarians from the parliament. There are other organisations that have made submissions that will be better placed to comment on the nuances of this, but our understanding is that this throws up constitutional issues and goes to concerns about the role of democratically elected representatives. In resolving these issues, however, we would like to see parties provide a greater focus on ensuring accountability on these issues, including in pre-selection processes which we understand is outside the scope of the Committee’s terms of reference.  


Regarding how the Code should be implemented: 

  • We believe the Code should be legislated for by the Parliament. We do not believe it should be administered only by Standing Orders embedded within each chamber. We believe this is important to ensure consistency and clarity across both chambers, as standing orders can change with a majority vote in the relevant chamber, where legislation would apply to both chambers and be agreed to by a majority in both chambers. We do not want to have a situation where there are effectively different standards for different parliamentarians. 
  • We believe the Code should have a level of detail that is more “high level” in what it articulates e.g. specific values, and specifics around behaviour that is prohibited, including gendered violence; and other forms of disrespect and discrimination that are contrary to the values of respect and inclusion. The details and definitions for this should sit below the Code in policy or similar so that it can be changed to adapt with time, and run less of a risk of being outdated. This is part of the reason we are calling for a review as part of this process, to ensure that all the necessary values and behaviours contained in the Code reflect what is needed. 

You can read Fair Agenda's full submission to the Committee here.