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Integrity in government: issues and developments in New South Wales, 2011-2015

Integrity in government: issues and developments in New South Wales, 2011-2015

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No 1/2015 by Gareth Griffith
When the Coalition came to government in 2011 they did so with a Five Point Action Plan, a major plank of which was to renew trust in the political system. The focus of this paper is on those laws and policies introduced over the last four years to make good that promise of renewal.

Setting the intended tone for the 55th Parliament, Premier Barry O’Farrell said when introducing a measure to reform the law on lobbying:
      One of the things that the people of New South Wales voted for on 26 March was to have honest, accountable government in New South Wales again. This bill is part of a series of measures that the Government will take to restore confidence in public administration in New South Wales….We are determined that people understand that decisions are made on the basis of public interest.

Since 2011 reforms have taken place across many areas, from whistleblower legislation to revising the Ministerial Code of Conduct, and including the establishment of a Public Service Commissioner to oversee ethical practice in the public sector. Changes to the regulation of lobbyists include the prohibition of success fees for lobbyists who lobby Ministers and others and the prohibition of former Ministers and parliamentary secretaries form engaging in lobbying in the 18 months after they cease to hold office. Political donations legislation has also undergone several rounds of change, including as a result of the High Court challenge in the Unions NSW case.

Despite these reforms, sometimes arising from attempts to circumvent them, the 55th Parliament saw a steady stream of scandal, most of it played out before the ICAC. Many of these events have harked back to the last stanzas of Labor’s 16 years in power. More recently, they have been joined by those on the other side of politics, with 10 Liberal members stepping aside from the Party to sit on the cross-bench.

What effect has this had on the health and wellbeing of representative democracy in NSW, at a time of falling membership in the major parties and a seemingly increasing cynicism towards politicians and the system of democratic politics generally? On this issue, the recent report of the Expert Panel on political donations observed that findings of fraud and corruption, together with alleged breaches of election funding laws, “have led the community to distrust politicians and to question the integrity of government”.