Penny Bright: Learning from the Len Brown affair

Statement by mayoral candidate Penny Bright:

I believe that consenting adults make their own rules.

However, if a relationship is supposed to be based upon monogamy and mutual exclusivity, and that trust is breached, there will be repercussions, and likely unintended consequences for both the parties directly involved and innocent third parties.

Those who stand, and particularly if elected for public office, are effectively in a public ‘goldfish bowl’, and tend to find out the hard way that private indiscretions can become a huge public embarrassment, for both themselves and their families.

However, there is a difference, in my opinion, between morality and legality.

Should Len Brown stand down as Auckland Mayor because of his two year extra-marital affair, which has come as quite a shock to a large number of people (including myself)?

As it currently stands legally, in my opinion, provided there has been no misuse of public monies to finance in any way, this unfortunate affair, then my answer is no.

‘Conduct’ of Auckland Council elected representatives is covered by

 the Auckland Council ‘Code of Conduct’, which is, in my considered opinion, a  gutless creature, with no statutory teeth for proven ‘misconduct’.


“5. Key Principles


5.1. Introduction


This Code of Conduct is based on a number of key principles. 

It defines standards of conduct that meet these principles and statutory provisions applicable to local government activities. 

The principles underpin and guide these standards and may be used as an aid in interpreting the substantive provisions of the Code.


5.2. Honesty and Integrity


Members have a duty to act honestly and with integrity at all times.

5.3. Public Interest


Members have a duty to make decisions in the public interest.  

They must not act in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their families, friends or business interests.  This means making decisions because they benefit the public, not because they 

benefit the decision maker.


5.4. Declare private interests


Members must declare any private interests or personal benefits relating to their public duties and take steps to resolve any conflicts of interest in such a way that protects the public interest.  This means fully disclosing actual or potential conflicts of interest; avoiding any financial or other obligation to any individual or organisation that might reasonably be thought to influence them in the performance of their duties.


5.5. Impartiality


Members should make decisions on merit and in accordance with their statutory obligations when carrying out public business. This includes the making of appointments, awarding of contracts or recommending individuals for rewards or benefits.  This means fairness to all; impartial assessment; merit selection in appointments and in purchase and sale of council’s resources; considering only relevant matters.


5.6. Accountability


Members are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and should consider issues on their merits, taking into account the views of others.  This means co-operating fully and honestly with the scrutiny appropriate to their particular office.


5.7. Openness


Members should be as open as possible about their actions and those of the Council and should be prepared to justify their actions.  This includes approaching decision-making with an open mind and a willingness to listen to differing points of view.  This means giving 

reasons for decisions; communicating clearly; not being close minded and taking personal ownership of comments made publicly.


5.8. Respect


Members should treat others, including council officers, with respect at all times.  This means not using derogatory terms towards others, or about others, including in public facing new media; not misrepresenting the statements or actions of others (whether they be other individual members, the Governing Body, Local Boards, committees or officers); observing the rights of other people; treating people with courtesy, and recognising the different roles others play in local government decision-making. 

5.9. Duty to Uphold the Law


Members should uphold the law and, on all occasions, act in accordance with the trust the public places in them.


5.10. Stewardship


Members should ensure that the Council uses resources prudently and for lawful purposes, and that the Council maintains sufficient resources to meet its statutory obligations.


5.11. Leadership


Members should promote and support these principles by example.”

______________________________ __________________________

A  breach of this Code of Conduct is NOT an offence under the Local Government Act 2002.

______________________________ __________________________

“8.8. Responses to Breaches of the Code
To avoid doubt, a breach of the Code of Conduct does not constitute an offence under the Local Government Act 2002. The exact nature of the action the governing body/local board may take depends on the nature of the breach and whether there are statutory provisions 
dealing with the breach. “

______________________________ __________________________


This ‘Code of Conduct’ may be effectively useless, but at least local government elected representatives have one, unlike elected representatives at NZ central government level, who do not.

Which is arguably rather incredible in this country which is ‘perceived’ to be ‘the least corrupt country in the world’ (along with Denmark and Finland, according to the 2012 Transparency International ‘Corruption Perception Index’.

In my considered opinion, as a proven ‘anti-corruption Public Watchdog’, I believe it is time for ENFORCEABLE ‘Codes of Conduct’ for both local and central NZ elected representatives.

During the 2013 Auckland Mayoral campaign, I called for enforceable ‘Codes of Conduct’ in my ACTION PLAN against ‘white collar’ crime, corruption and ‘corporate welfare’:

” 4. Legislate for an enforceable  ‘Code of Conduct’ for NZ Members of Parliament   (who make the rules for everyone else).    
5. Make it an offence under the Local Government Act 2002 for NZ Local Government elected representatives to breach their 
‘Code of Conduct’.”

We need go no further than Australia to see examples of enforceable ‘Codes of Conduct’ for those elected to public office.

For example – Australia – New South Wales:

MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT for Local Councils in NSW

Code of Conduct for Members and ICAC (NSW Parliament)

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Queensland – Local Government

It is now time to learn the lessons, and get such legislation in place, to help remind elected representatives that private indiscretions may have both political and legal consequences.

In New Zealand – we  need enforceable ‘Codes of Conduct’ at both local and central government level.

The time has come – this is long overdue.

Penny Bright

‘Anti-corruption /anti-privatisation Public Watchdog’

2013 Auckland Mayoral candidate