The news coming out of Canberra in recent weeks has left Australia reeling.
Even more so that it comes after a committee of Government and Opposition MPs opposed a proposal calling for the establishment of a statutory, independently enforced code of conduct to govern the behaviour of parliamentarians as recently as last year.
We might only be a few months in, but 2021 has already raised a very important question: is enough being done to hold our elected representatives accountable for their workplace conduct?
Corporate Australia’s recent response to workplace misconduct provides an interesting comparison.
When AMP Capital promoted Boe Pahari to Chief Executive in 2020, despite previous sexual harassment claims being made against him by a female employee, it started a war of words with media and was the catalyst for a domino effect of leadership resignations; from Pahari himself to former chairman David Murray.
Pat Regan, former CEO of QBE, went so far as to flee the country after it was found he “did not meet the standards” in the company’s code of conduct following an external investigation into a complaint by a female colleague.
And, accountability traverses more than instances of sexual harassment in the workplace.
In the aftermath of the financial services Royal Commission, NAB’s CEO, Andrew Thorburn, and chairman, Ken Henry, announced their departure from the bank after their leadership was criticised by the royal commission. Not long after, Brian Hartzer stepped down as CEO of Westpac following a money laundering and child exploitation scandal. They were three of hundreds.
Just this week, Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thomson announced he would resign in 2022 over the Jukkan Gorge destruction following months of uproar from First Nations leaders, investors, media and the broader community.
In the aftermath of the financial services Royal Commission, NAB’s CEO, Andrew Thorburn, and chairman, Ken Henry, announced their departure from the bank after their leadership was criticised by the royal commission.
Not long after, Brian Hartzer stepped down as CEO of Westpac following a money laundering and child exploitation scandal. They were three of hundreds.
In many of these instances, the leader stepping down was not personally responsible for the wrongdoing – but fell on their swords recognising ultimate accountability for a lack of action.
While it could be argued that politicians are held accountable at the ballot box, this only falls every three to four years as opposed to the AGMs, investor scrutiny and share price facing executives and board members on an annual basis.
And, as of 30 June 2020, it was mandated that all ASX-listed companies must have Board-approved organisational values, a Code of Conduct, and whistleblower, anti-Corruption and bribery policies in place under the Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations published in February 2019.
It begs the question; if corporate Australia are taking meaningful steps to “instil a culture of acting lawfully, ethically and responsibly”, why aren’t our elected officials?
No entity should be exempt from ensuring a compliant culture that starts at the top. If leaders mandate staff act in an ethical and compliant fashion, it’s common sense that organisation will thrive; not only by avoiding becoming headline news but by maintaining the sustainability of the long-term workforce through attracting and retaining a productive workforce.
What is needed is consistency in how the most influential and powerful leaders – be it in the public or private sector – are held to account on the decisions they make that impact a lot of people. This can be achieved by reform across the systems that govern both accountability and support for victims of inadequate corporate culture.
Deborah Coram, Safetrac’s CEO, will regularly share industry-relevant news to keep you informed on what’s happening in the world of compliance and brand protection.
As an authority on compliance training for almost 20 years, Deborah’s insights are thought-provoking, relevant and timely.