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John Howard’s 1996 Ministerial Code Of Conduct

This is the code of conduct issued by Prime Minister John Howard after the 1996 federal election.

A revised code of conduct was released after the 1998 federal election. It is shown below.

John Howard’s 1996 Ministerial Code of Conduct.

It is vital that ministers and parliamentary secretaries do not by their conduct undermine public confidence in them or the government.

Ministers must be honest in their public dealings and should not intentionally mislead the Parliament or the public. Any misconception caused inadvertently should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

Ministers should ensure that their conduct is defensible, and should consult the Prime Minister when in doubt about the propriety of any course of action.

Along with the privilege of serving as a minister or parliamentary secretary there is some personal sacrifice in terms of the time and energy that must be devoted to official duties and some loss of privacy. Although their public lives encroach upon their private lives, it is important that ministers and parliamentary secretaries avoid giving any appearance of using public office for private purposes.

The nature of their duties is such that they may need to have regard to the interests of members of their immediate families (to the extent that ministers know their interests) as well as their own when ensuring that no conflict or apparent conflict between interests and duties arises.

Ministers (this and subsequent references to ministers should be read as including parliamentary secretaries) must not engage in any professional practice or in the daily work of any business. They must not accept retainers or income from personal exertion other than that laid down as their remuneration as ministers and parliamentarians.

Notes on the meaning of ‘personal exertion’ are included in the explanatory notes which the Prime Minister sends out with statements of interests forms.

Ministers are required to resign directorships in public companies and may retain directorships in private companies only if any such company operates, for example, a family farm, business or portfolio of investments, and if retention of the directorship is not likely to conflict with the minister’s public duty (eg, a minister should question the retention of a directorship in a company in which share holdings extend beyond the minister’s own family).

Ministers are required to divest themselves of all shares and similar interests in any company or business involved in the area of their portfolio responsibilities. The transfer of interests to a family member or to a nominee or trust is not an acceptable form of divestment.

Ministers are not precluded from making investments on the stock markets or other financial and trading markets, but they should not operate as traders and should exercise careful personal judgment in respect of transactions.

Ministers are required to make statements of interests in accordance with arrangements determined by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister writes to ministers outlining these arrangements.

Ministers should perform their public duties uninfluenced by fear or favour – that is, by any expectation that they will benefit or suffer as a consequence.

Ministers should not accept any benefit where acceptance might give an appearance that they may be subject to improper influence (eg because the giver has or seeks to have a contractual relationship with government or has any other special interest in government decisions).

Ministers may accept benefits in the form of gifts, sponsored travel or hospitality only in accordance with the relevant guidelines (provided by the Prime Minister when he writes to ministers about their statements of interests).

Ministers should not exercise the influence obtained from their public office, or use official information, to obtain any improper benefit for themselves or another.

Particular attention needs to be paid to ensuring that the scope for adverse comment is minimised if it is proposed to appoint someone who is the close relative or associate of a minister.

Subject to provisions in legislation or other formal documents relating to the establishment of government bodies or positions, government appointments are to be made on the basis of merit, taking into account the skills, qualifications, experience and any special qualities required of the person to be appointed.

If the approving authority (which may be Cabinet or a minister) is satisfied that this condition is demonstrably met, then spouses, parents, children or other close relatives of ministers, parliamentarians, ministerial staff or heads of departments or agencies should not be discriminated against in selection processes on account of family relationships.

There is a longstanding practice that ministers do not appoint close relatives to positions in their own offices. In addition, close relatives of a minister should not be appointed to any other minister’s office irrespective of the level of the position, except with the specific approval of the Prime Minister. And a minister’s close relative should not be appointed to any position in an agency in that minister’s own portfolio if the appointment is subject to the agreement of the minister or Cabinet. Appointment proposals should identify the elements of merit, skills, qualifications, experience and special qualities on which they are based.

Ministers are provided with facilities at public expense in order that public business may be conducted effectively. Their use of these facilities should be in accordance with this principle. It should not be wasteful or extravagant. As a general rule, official facilities should be used for official purposes.

The distinction between official and personal conduct is not always clear (eg, in relation to the provision of hospitality/entertainment and use of car transport) but ministers should ensure that their actions are calculated to give the public value for its money and never abuse the privileges which, undoubtedly, are attached to ministerial office.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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