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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Transparency missing in MPs "secret" submissions

I know that politicians are in a no win situation when it comes to pay and conditions – no one seems to think they deserve a raise at any time.

In NSW the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal – a judge appointed by the President of the Industrial Relations Tribunal - has the job of producing an annual report with recommendations. Today’s Daily Telegraph “MPs' staff grab” says a “secret” submission has been lodged by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly arguing for an extra staff member for each parliamentarian, just coincidentally at the time the Government is planning to reduce the public service by 5000 jobs.

The “secret” nature of the submission, and the Tribunal’s comments that submissions are confidential says something about politicians sensitivity regarding full and robust debate about their worth and what they need to do their job properly. I’m sure the Telegraph doesn’t need any help in this area, but the Tribunal is part of the Premier’s Department for FOI purposes, and an FOI application might produce some interesting results.

The Parliamentary Remuneration Act makes no reference to the confidential nature of submissions so any decision to treat them in this way is entirely the result of a decision by the Tribunal itself. The Tribunal’s website is silent on this issue, in contrast to the Federal Remuneration Tribunal – it makes it clear that any submission that contains information of a personal kind or is otherwise sensitive should be indicated as such at the time a submission is lodged and goes on to say that submissions may be accessed under the Federal FOI Act.

The fact that a submission on this matter on behalf of NSW MPs needs a secret label says a lot about the prevailing culture and the interest (or lack thereof) in robust debate.

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