Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop says she supports Kevin Rudd's ministerial code of conduct, but won't say if the coalition will adopt the same standards if it regains office.
The prime minister yesterday unveiled his new code of conduct which restricts ministers' shareholdings and their employment after leaving politics and establishes a register of lobbyists.
Ms Bishop last night said she supported higher standards, accountability and transparency in government.
“Mr Rudd has set the bar very high and we'll certainly be holding his ministry to account,” she told ABC television.
But asked if the Liberals would hold their own future ministers to Mr Rudd's code, Ms Bishop replied: “Let's see how the government performs according to this code of conduct”.
She appeared to dispute one element of Mr Rudd's code – his ban on ministers owning shares unless they are held in superannuation funds, publicly listed funds or in a trust where the minister has no influence over investment decisions.
Ms Bishop said most Australians accepted that at present ministers could own shares in companies that did not relate to their areas of portfolio responsibility.
“They … understand that people can hold shares in a company that is unrelated to their portfolio,” she said.
“We do have mechanisms in place, a register of interests, and people do disclose potential or perceived conflicts of interest, or actual conflicts of interest.
“It's not as if there isn't accountability there now – there is – but Mr Rudd has set a standard and we will be holding his ministers to that standard.”
Ms Bishop backed the proposed register of lobbyists, provided it did not interfere with lobbyists' commercial activities.
She said she did not believe any Howard government ministers had acted improperly, despite frequent criticism that former prime minister John Howard failed to enforce punishment for breaches of ministerial standards.
Ms Bishop also said Mr Rudd's reforms related to the independence of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), announced today, simply formalised the process that already existed.
Future appointments to the RBA board will be drawn from a register of candidates complied by the secretary to the Treasury and the RBA governor, from which the treasurer will make appointments.
Ms Bishop supported the change, noting she would not want to seethe field of potential appointees narrowed because of the new selection method.