Thorpe case shows need for code of conduct

It is difficult to see how Greens senator Lidia Thorpe could ever raise issues of integrity and accountability again in federal parliament without becoming a target for derision and ridicule.

And that is a serious problem for the Greens and particularly its leader Adam Bandt, who is certain to face calls from across the parliament to explain why his own office appears to suffer from grave and glaring lapses in judgment.

Greens leader Adam Band asked Lidia Thorpe to resign as the party’s deputy leader in the Senate over her prior relationship with Dean Martin.Credit:Jason South, Paul Jeffers, Jesse Marlow

Bandt says he only learnt last week – more than a year after the fact – that Thorpe, in 2021, conducted a personal relationship with a former president of an outlaw motorcycle gang.

Thorpe apparently did not disclose her relationship with former Rebel bikies boss Dean Martin either to the Greens or the wider parliament despite being on the parliamentary joint committee for law enforcement which, at the time, was examining police strategies around bikie gangs and other organised crime networks.

That is an appalling error of judgment.

In late 2021, the senator used her position on another committee examining legal and constitutional matters to quiz Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo and advocate the case of Jackie Dean Hobson, an alleged member of the Rebels bikie gang who faced deportation to New Zealand.

While it is not clear if the senator knew at any time that Hobson was linked to the Rebels (she has declined to answer that question), her relationship with Martin generated a situation where she could be perceived to have a conflict of interest.

Thorpe has conceded she “made mistakes” and has “not exercised good judgment”. Yet when members of her own staff told Bandt’s chief of staff about their concerns, it went no further.

According to Bandt, his chief of staff failed to relay the message.

If that is true, then questions must be asked about the party’s commitment to rigor and rectitude, and to accountability, integrity and transparency.

Fellow Greens would have cause to question Bandt’s handling of these revelations. They could be forgiven for being furious about how this has undermined so much of their work and the perception of hypocrisy on matters of integrity.

While Thorpe was forced to resign as the Greens deputy leader in the Senate after her relationship became public, that is of little real consequence.

Practical ramifications, change initiatives and accountability are what matters to the public, not internal party demotions.

The Coalition’s James Paterson spokesman for cybersecurity and countering foreign interference told The Sunday Age that Bandt should consider referring Thorpe to the government’s new anti-corruption commission when it is established. That would certainly show he was treating the matter seriously.

More immediately, Bandt needs to commission a thorough audit of his own office and that of the parliamentary Greens to eradicate and guard against any prospect of real, apparent or potential conflicts of interest and ensure standards of accountability are as high as the voting public expects.

The Greens say they now have a robust process for handling complaints following the Jenkins review into parliamentary workplace standards last year.

But the claim by Bandt that he did not learn of the relationship until a year later, when alerted by journalists, demonstrates that dysfunction remains.

The Department of Finance, at the request of Thorpe and Bandt, is already reviewing the culture inside her office following a staff complaint. But there are wider concerns about the senator’s conduct, including a complaint of aggressive bullying and intimidation of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria co-chair, Geraldine Atkinson, during a meeting at Parliament House last year.

While most states and territories, the public service, and most corporations of substance have codes of conduct to guard against and manage conflicts of interest, no overarching code applies to federal politicians other than those issued by their own parties. It is time to formalise one.

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