Federal government ministers have been told to sell off shareholdings and divest from blind trust arrangements under a tough new code of conduct implemented by Anthony Albanese.
Maintaining a ban on sex between ministers and their staff, the Prime Minister said frontbenchers would be held personally responsible for managing their private financial affairs and could not delegate their responsibility for pecuniary interests to anyone else.
Only shares held through superannuation and other broadly diversified managed funds will be allowed under the new rules.
Any minister required to sell shares or restructure their financial arrangements will be expected to do so as quickly as possible. Ministers were told about the new code of conduct, based on Rudd-Gillard era guidelines from 2013, this week.
Ministers and assistant ministers will be required to act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility and the public interest under the code.
“I expect ministers to uphold the highest of standards in both their professional and personal lives,” Mr Albanese said.
“This new code of conduct for ministers delivers on the government’s promise to be open and accountable.”
The announcement will put pressure on Opposition Leader Peter Dutton to match transparency standards within the Coalition, and comes after a series of scandals in the defeated Morrison government.
Former attorney-general Christian Porter quit cabinet in 2021 after accepting anonymous donations through a blind trust set up to pay his costs in legal action against the ABC. Mr Porter said he was unwilling to ask for or publicly reveal the identity of the donors to the trust and moved to the backbench.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was attacked in Parliament in 2015 over personal investments in the Cayman Islands, a Caribbean tax haven. He told parliament his investments were almost entirely held in managed funds outside Australia, to avoid conflicts of interest.
The Coalition’s infamous “bonk ban” was implemented by Mr Turnbull in 2018 after then Nationals’ leader Barnaby Joyce was revealed to be having an affair with staffer Vicki Campion. The couple have two children.
Later an affair between Liberal minister Alan Tudge and his staffer Rachelle Miller was revealed. Mr Tudge eventually stood down from the frontbench and Ms Miller reportedly negotiated a $500,000 taxpayer-funded payout from the Department of Finance.
Mr Albanese also announced new rules for ministerial staff, reinforcing Labor’s expectation of a safe and respectful workplace.
Under existing rules being maintained, staffers will be required to provide a written declaration of their private financial interests to their employing minister.
Special Minister of State Don Farrell put all staffers on notice about the expectations of government.
“Ministers and their staff hold a prominent and influential position within the Australian government,” he said in a statement.
“The conduct of ministerial staff should be held at the highest standard, while also recognising their pivotal role in creating a safe and respectful workplace within Parliament House.”
Mr Albanese is yet to release his full ministerial code of conduct.
A cross-parliament working group is implementing the recommendations of a review of the workplace culture of Parliament House, after a wide-ranging assessment by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
Labor committed to implementing all 28 recommendations. Scott Morrison initiated the review following the alleged rape of Coalition staffer Brittany Higgins inside Parliament’s ministerial wing.
Written by Tom McIlroy. Originally published in the Australian Financial Review on July 7 2022.