19 February 2024

Committee review finds MLA Peter Cain breached ministerial code of conduct twice

| Claire Fenwicke
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Peter Cain, MLA.

Canberra Liberals and Ginninderra MLA Peter Cain formally apologised for breaching the member’s code of conduct. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Canberra Liberals and Ginninderra MLA Peter Cain has been required to apologise after it was found the employment of an intern and an email to his constituents breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct.

Standards Commissioner Ken Crispin KC received two complaints about Mr Cain in late 2023 – one over his son-in-law working as an intern in his office and the other over an email that appeared to be a misuse of public resources. His input was relied upon during a committee inquiry into the complaints.

Mr Cain had one of his sons-in-law as an unpaid vocational placement from September to November 2021.

The law around who MLAs can employ as staff states a member of the Assembly “must not employ a person who is a family member of [them]”.

While the law specifies this applies to partners, partners, siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and aunts, it doesn’t refer to in-laws.

Mr Cain argued that since a son-in-law didn’t fall into these descriptions, he didn’t breach the code.

But Mr Crispin pointed out the code also stated MLAs should “not seek to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or friends”.

“I have no reason to doubt Mr Cain’s assurance that he sought to treat [his son-in-law] the same as other interns. However, the vocational placement itself was clearly to be of benefit to him,” he noted.

“It was intended to fulfil a requirement of his course of study … and presumably to give him valuable experience.”

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The other issue related to a widespread email sent in November 2023 about the Canberra Liberals’ Putting Your Suburb First policy.

There were concerns that the “bulk” of the email was critical of the current Labor-Greens government and used as a promotion of the new Liberals policy.

The last paragraph invited people to submit community projects for Ginninderra. However, it was in the context of a political policy and directed people to the Canberra Liberals’ website.

Mr Crispin recognised that members had the right to use resources provided to them for the preparation and dissemination of communications with the public, but they were not allowed to use those resources to make political statements.

Mr Cain submitted the email’s purpose had been to “engage with the community and elicit feedback on potential projects within [his] electorate”.

He also took no responsibility for the communication, submitting, “This email was sent by a staffer in my office without my personal review”.

But as the email had been issued under Mr Cain’s Legislative Assembly address, promoted a Canberra Liberals policy and directed people to a party website, Mr Crispin was of the opinion that the communication was “political in nature” and that it did “involve the misuse of public funds” – but not necessarily by Mr Cain.

“Whilst members may bear vicarious legal responsibility for actions of their staff, there is nothing in the Code to suggest that Members may be taken to have breached relevant principles by reason of the conduct of others,” he commented.

“I have no reason to doubt Mr Cain’s explanation that the email was not sent by him and that he had not reviewed it before its dissemination.

“Consequently, I am unable to find that he has personally taken any action involving a misuse of public funds.”

But the committee inquiry took a different view, feeling that the fact he hadn’t seen or sent the email didn’t “abrogate” him from his responsibility as an MLA to ensure the resources provided to his office aren’t misused.

“The Committee, despite the Commissioner’s recommendation that the complaint [in regards to the email] be dismissed, formed the view that Mr Cain … had failed to ensure that his personal staff were mindful of his commitment to the code,” it stated.

“To suggest Mr Cain was unaware of the email is disingenuous. It is hard to imagine that the staff initiated, crafted and disseminated the email without Mr Cain’s input or would have done so of their own accord.”

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Mr Cain formally apologised, stating: “I note there are two recommendations out of four [from the committee report] that recommended I apologise to the Assembly, and I do so accordingly.”

The Committee also recommended the Office of the Legislative Assembly update its internal forms and documents to specify that in-laws are, in fact, family, and to clarify in the code of conduct that “as far as practicable”, an MLA’s personal staff are to be made aware of the member’s commitment to the code.

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Go easy on him, he is a liberal. You only have to look at his federal counterpart Peter Dutton how he tries to circumvent the truth in conversation.

This story was first published in the Canberra Times on Feb 6th. Why has it taken RiotACT so long to publish what is objectively old news?

As I read it, Peter Cain “employed” his son-in-law as an unpaid intern in his office (cost to the taxpayer $0) and sent an e-mail to constituents using his Assembly e-mail address rather than his Party address (cost to the taxpayer $0). The result was an investigation by a senior lawyer and Assembly committee (and support staff) at the cost of an unknown thousands of dollars. I feel this is a storm in a teacup.

Here I was thinking it was going to be a slow old weekend and along comes Claire Fenwicke to entertain me with Peter Cain’s latest antics!

Poor old Mr Cain snarling away at those he disagrees with and making a fool of himself, blaming his staff and anything else for his dishonest behaviour. I don’t think our Assembly has seen such an amusing and hapless MLA since the Liberals Steve Pratt!

Mr Cain uses most of his parliamentary time to knock on doors, annoy his constituents and take selfies with them to post to his Facebook page. Intruding on community and cultural events so he can big note himself and pretend he knows more about immigration than anyone else. All to shore up his unlikely chances of re-election at the next election.

Only a few months ago Mr Cain was using his Facebook page to reply to right wing media calling for an end to self-government in the ACT. He was also out there supporting then acting leader Jeremy Hanson in lobbying his party’s federal senators to interfere in ACT laws and undermine our elected parliament to do its job.

Now Mr Cain is at it again! A parliamentary inquiry, convened yet again, to investigate his behaviour, has demanded he apologise to voters for dishonestly employing a relative. In only the first sitting week of this year’s assembly Mr Cain gave a grudging apology while pretending that he didn’t know about the inquiry’s findings and that he didn’t know his son-in-law was a family member! Now another committee inquiry, convened again just to investigate him, has found him guilty of dishonest behaviour.

Where will it end?

What a silly old duffer Mr Cain is!

It’s hilarious that Mr Cain has fallen foul here yet the ACT Government’s glossy brochures which are clearly political promotions of themselves are perfectly fine.

Another ACT pollie who I’ve never heard of.

Yet another example of a hopeless ACT politician. How do we continually vote for these people.

As for his unauthorised news publication, I’m more concerned about the ACT Governments ‘In Your Region’ newsletter we regularly get.
That brochure is nothing but an ACT Government advertorial. Never any useful community information about your region such as: we’ve removed your local bus service; sold the public basketball court off to property developers; or stopped the grant to your local Community Service.

It’s just a Newsletter promoting Light Rail coming to your region (without mentioning a timeframe) or news of a Minister with a gold shovel announcing a road duplication they never intend to build.

So he allowed a son in law to perform “unpaid vocational placement from September to November 2021”. Whoopee do!

And even worse the “the law specifies this applies to partners, partners, siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and aunts, it doesn’t refer to in-laws” so this was not outside of the rules as they stood?

How on earth is this something that the ACT Government can suddenly decides requires censure??? How many MLA’s employ close friends for positions in their offices? How many Ministers waste $70M and just respond with ….yeah Sorry…. How any times can the CM announce a review in to the stadium (at an impressive $3M)??

What a ridiculous move by this tired Government. There must be an election coming.

How would the code apply to First Australians? Everyone is a brother or sister. The law unfairly assumes a European family structure.

Deborah Johns4:51 pm 17 Feb 24

Seems pretty clear. Don’t use public funds to benefit self, family or friends.
“But Mr Crispin pointed out the code also stated MLAs should “not seek to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or friends”.”

Capital Retro10:10 am 17 Feb 24

I’ve never heard of this bloke.

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