Parliament's new conduct watchdog to keep MPs on best behaviour

Source: 1News

Now more than ever MPs will need to be on their best behaviour as Parliament prepares for a new independent watchdog with the power to investigate bullying and harassment complaints.

And while many welcome the move others claim the role holds too much power over elected officials.

The new independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Conduct will receive, investigate, and resolve complaints against MPs who violate the Behavioural Statements for the Parliamentary Workplace.

"This role has been established as part of our commitment to improving the culture of Parliament," Speaker Trevor Mallard said in a statement.

"The nature of Parliament means there are power imbalances here, and we must keep them in check. Establishing this role guarantees another channel through which staff can confidentially raise concerns about members’ conduct."

READ MORE: National says it doesn't have a bullying problem, as Nick Smith resigns after staffer's allegation

The change has the support of most parties.

"I'm all for robust debate in Parliament a good cut and thrust in terms of argument but the way we treat our staff the way we treat the people around us that should be different," Police Minister Chris Hipkins said.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson agrees, believing "many staff don't always feel safe to come forward to raise issues, feel that they are bullied harassed, discriminated against".

Employment lawyer Kathryn Dalziel said the independence of the commissioner was key.

"I see that role as important it's good that an independent person is being appointed but I see some difficulties in the role by the very nature of what parliament is about."

"Parliament by its very nature is full of political interest," Dalziel said.

The new watchdog comes after the damning 2019 five-month culture review of bullying and harassment in Parliament found multiple failings.

Inappropriate behaviour tainted Labour's Iain-Lees Galloway while bullying accusations were levelled at National's Nick Smith as they both exited Parliament.

"I had actually worked with Nick Smith myself and hadn't experienced that, but I think it's really important not to minimise the experience of others," National’s Nicola Willis said.

"There has been really unacceptable conduct in this place over a number of decades."

But ACT’s David Seymour was critical of the change.

"You can't have an unelected person with that sort of power over elected people in a democracy," Seymour said.

"If the National Party and the Labour Party can't manage their own culture that's their problem."