NSW government to rewrite ministerial code in wake of Berejiklian ICAC findings

NSW government to rewrite ministerial code in wake of Berejiklian ICAC findings
  • PublishedFebruary 7, 2024

The New South Wales ministerial code will be updated to enshrine openness, honesty, and leadership, under changes proposed by the state government.

Members of parliament will be required to make more regular disclosures about their financial interests and those of their immediate family.

The government will also be legally required to respond to the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) recommendations.

The proposed changes stem from an investigation, in which ICAC found former premier Gladys Berejiklian failed to disclose her personal relationship with former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, who had been lobbying for government funding.

The reform also aims to address recommendations of a separate ICAC inquiry, which found former Drummoyne MP John Sidoti used his position to try to influence local government decisions to benefit his family’s property interests.

Ms Berejiklian, Mr Maguire, and Mr Sidoti all deny any wrongdoing.

What did ICAC recommend?

The ICAC recommended the code of conduct for MPs and ministers be amended to include guiding principles including selflessness, integrity, honesty and leadership.

The government plans to update the ministerial code’s preamble to include those specific principles, meaning a breach could lead to a finding of corrupt conduct by ICAC.

The corruption commission heard evidence that millions of dollars were granted to community projects in Mr Maguire’s Wagga Wagga electorate which did not necessarily satisfy the government’s cost-to-benefit criteria.

Under the government’s draft changes, there will be tighter guidelines for the preparation of business cases before community organisations are given funding.

man wearing glasses looking sideways
NSW Liberal MP John Sidoti stood aside from the frontbench while an ICAC investigation was carried out.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

MPs forced to disclose more information

During ICAC hearings, Mr Sidoti said he wasn’t aware he was the beneficiary of a family trust with property interests in Sydney’s inner west.

Despite signing documents for the trust, he said he believed he was simply signing a “tax minimisation scheme” set up for the family.

Some of the ICAC’s recommendations were already accepted by the previous Coalition government.

The current government plans to expand the rules surrounding MPs’ financial disclosures including those of their immediate family, bringing them more closely into line with the rules governing ministers.

The draft regulation has not yet been tabled in parliament but is believed to include the declaration of trusts, superannuation funds, and water access licences.

Crucially, all conflicts of interest will have to be disclosed within one month of the change of an MP’s circumstance, rather than at periodic intervals.

In a statement, Premier Chris Minns said the changes would strengthen the integrity of parliament.

“It’s critical that our expectations of every minister and every member is made clear.”

“The people of NSW need to have faith that politicians and elected officials are acting in the public interest.

The government plans to make the changes to declaration rules from July 1, after consulting with parliamentary committees that oversee MPs’ conduct.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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