FORMER state government minister Harry Woods says attracting better calibre candidates, and not a code of conduct, is the key to improving the public's view of parliamentarians.
Mr Woods, who spent two terms in the federal parliament representing the northern New South Wales seat of Page, described as "crap" any suggestion a code of conduct was needed for MPs.
Debate about the introduction of a code governing politicians' behaviour was reignited this week in the wake of allegations levelled at former Labor MP Craig Thomson and Speaker Peter Slipper. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday she was open to the idea.
But Mr Woods said the problems confronting Australia's political system were "deeper than that".
"I don't think we need a code of conduct. That's a reaction to try and say 'look, we're doing something, we're going to fix it'," said Mr Woods, who served as a minister in the Bob Carr government from 1997 to his retirement from politics in 2003.
"You either want to do the right thing or you don't want to do the right thing.
"What we would want to do as a country is attract people into the game that want to do the right thing."
Mr Woods, who was in the NSW Parliament when a code of conduct was introduced in 1998, said political parties on both sides of the divide were attracting "the wrong sort of people".
"It seems to be becoming more attractive to people who are just driven with egos," he said.
"The people who would like to do good less and less are thinking they can do something down that track (entering politics).
"I think they're put off by the sort of attacks that go on. People must look at it and say 'what a sleazy bloody business this is. Why would I want to go into it'."
Asked how the "right people" could be lured into a life in politics, Mr Woods was at a loss.
He said measures, such as increasing politicians' pay, were not the answer.
"There's a couple of reasons ... people go into politics," he said.
"Most of them at least start off ... wanting to do something about some problem they've got, wanting to fix something.
"The other group is the group that is attracted to the publicity, the ego side of it.
"What you want is the people that want to do some good, and are able to not bend themselves too much in getting there.
"Because it is all about compromise to one extent or another.
"How do you get them there? I don't know mate, I really don't."