Fact Sheet E2
Summary: Members need high ethical standards to be effective representatives. This means avoiding conflict between their public duties, and their personal interests. They must follow a code of conduct, and disclose their financial interests. If they have a personal interest, members can still debate the issue, but may not be able to vote on it.
|Preventing conflicts of interest||Declaring an interest during a debate|
|Code of conduct||Members cannot vote if conflict of interest|
|Register of members' interests — returns||Breaking the rules|
Members of Parliament have several responsibilities. They attend Parliament, take part in debates, and some also work on parliamentary committees (see Fact Sheet G2: Parliamentary Committees).
Members also work in their electorates, dealing with issues for constituents. Finally, most also belong to a political party, attend party meetings and functions, and help decide party policy.
Apart from these responsibilities, they also have personal financial interests. The different responsibilities can cause ethical challenges for members in their public role. Their first responsibility is to act in the public interest, and not promote their own private interests.
There are rules preventing members from putting their own interests first. They must follow a code of conduct, and give details publicly of their interests. Their interests are often called 'pecuniary interests'.
The Members of Parliament (Standards) Act 1978 includes a code of conduct. This lists Parliament's expectations of members' ethical behaviour. It confirms the first responsibility is their public duty. This means they must avoid actual conflicts of interest, and anything which looks like a conflict of interest.
Members must give details of certain financial and other interests to the Clerk of the Parliaments. Members do this when they are first elected (a primary return) and twice a year after that (ordinary returns). They must also give updates if anything changes.
The Clerk tables the returns in Parliament. For a copy:
www.parliament.vic.gov.au > 'Publications and Research' > 'Register of Members Interests'
Assembly Procedure Office, 03 9651 8563
visit or write
Legislative Assembly, Parliament House, Spring Street, East Melbourne, Vic 3002
A return includes details of:
- 1. income
- 2. beneficial interests in corporations or partnerships and any office the member holds in those businesses
- 3. any land the member owns
- 4. personal debts
- 5. beneficial interests in trusts
- 6. estates, where the member is appointed as executor and holds a beneficial interest
- 7. membership of any political party, trade or professional organisation
- 8. gifts, including the name and address of the person who gave it to the member
- 9. travel outside Victoria that was funded by another person (other than by the State or the member's family)
- 10. other interests which could appear to cause a conflict with their public duty.
Having a financial interest does not mean a member cannot take part in a debate, or work on a committee inquiry into the issue. However, if they do take part, they must declare material interests.
In debates, a member normally declares an interest at the start of their speech. Alternatively, members may decide not to speak in the debate, so do not need to make a declaration.
For example, a member declared owning a dairy farm when talking about changes to the Dairy Act. Another member, who owned shares in a brewing group, declared an interest when debating a bill to amend the Liquor Control Act.
A member cannot vote on topics in which they have a 'direct pecuniary interest'. The rule applies because the member could personally benefit from decisions the Legislative Assembly makes, such as changing the law.
'Direct pecuniary interests' are interests directly relevant to a member personally. They are not public policy issues which impact on a broad group of Victorians.
If a member has a direct pecuniary interest, they can still debate the issue. However, they cannot vote, and must leave the Chamber during a division.
Deliberately disobeying the Members of Parliament (Standards) Act 1978 is a contempt of Parliament. The Legislative Assembly can take action over contempts, like judges do for contempts of court. It has the power to investigate and take action against the member involved.
Some of the penalties provided for in the Act are apologies, rectification of the issue, a fine or suspension from the House. In extreme cases, the Assembly can declare the member's seat vacant. This has not happened since 1869, when two members were expelled for bribery.
The Constitution also recognises that, in some situations, a member cannot continue in office. For example, they must not be involved in a contract with the State, or receive any income or fees from the State (other than income as a member).
A breach is very serious. Under the Constitution, a member loses their seat, leading to a by-election.
- Last Updated: Monday, 16 September 2019 10:17