Bill Hoffman.
Bill Hoffman.

Our pollies don't want a bar of simple ethics code

IT seems a very simple proposition but like everything involved in politics has immediately become too complicated for most involved.

Why else other than that they fear a trap would so many of this nation's Senators and Federal Members of Parliament be reluctant to sign on to a set of principles that are fundamental in their expectation.

So removed do our politicians appear to have become from those they are meant to serve that they are now deaf to the beating drums of discontent about behaviour that abuses the privilege of office and have become concerned only to holding on to their entitlement.

The Fitzgerald Principles - there are seven of them - shine a light to a more ethical path of conduct for those who would seek to serve in the public interest.

Rather than being a mine field they should have been quickly embraced - but haven't - as a mantle of values to shield from the urgings of chancers, rent seekers and their own human failings.

Only 57 of the nation's 226 senators and federal members have signed on as being willing to adhere to a set of values that in truth should be enshrined as their oath of office.

A further 36 have declined while the remaining (133) have simply failed to respond.

That strategy, which in the case of the Coalition appears party-based, will only be successful if voters allow it.

Rank and file members of political parties, increasingly disillusioned with the representation they receive, could do worse than to begin agitating that acceptance of the principles by preferred candidates be fundamental to pre-selection.

The Fitzgerald Principles ask simply that those in public office agree: 

"To act honourably and fairly and solely in the public interest

To treat all citizens equally

To tell the truth

Not to mislead or deceive

Not to withhold or obfuscate information to which voters are entitled

Not to spend public money except for public benefit

Not to use your position or information gained from your position for your benefit or the benefit of a family member, friend, political party or other related entity."

Why all politicians would not want to signal to voters they get their discontent simply beggars belief.

Expense scandals justified by double standards, donations from those seeking favour for their commercial interests and the pipeline of politicians that flows from office to highly-paid positions with companies that have benefited from their policies and decisions have eroded confidence to the point voters have been left searching wildly for any "other than the above".

Yet not one member of the National Party, the LNP or the Liberal Party has considered the public interest above their own and put pen to paper.

Only 40, including Opposition leader Bill Shorten, of the 95 Labor MPs and Senators have signed along with all 10 Greens, four members of the Nick Xenophon Team, Pauline Hanson and two independents.

Of our local Federal Members Andrew Wallace (Fisher) is on leave but has expressed a willingness to discuss the matter while Ted O'Brien (Fairfax) has chosen bombast and shaky high ground that are more the stuff of a schoolboy debater than a politician in touch with the growing disconnect among voters.

"While I don't take issue with any specific principle being put forwards, I'm not in the business of 'signing-up' to a prescribed set of values and principles established by others," he argues.

"There is no shortage of critique on one's performance and character when you serve in public office and my preference is to be judged by my actions rather than whether I sign up to a prescribed set of principles no matter how virtuous they may be."

Those are words that may have been satisfying to pen from London where the MP is for part of Parliament's winter recess, but from here resonate as bombast from someone who has quickly forgotten the recent history of his no-longer-so blue ribbon LNP seat following its dalliance with Clive Palmer.

Eminent jurists and ethicists have thrown their support behind the Fitzgerald Principles which won't go away simply by politicians ignoring them.

Expect the pressure to be well and truly put on every candidate ahead of the next federal election to commit to their fundamental values.

But voters who complain about the behaviour of politicians can't expect anything to change until they demand higher standards and make clear at the ballot box they will accept nothing less.

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