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Monday, March 30, 2009

MPs so-called free trips under the spotlight.

Senator Nick Xenophon Independent South Australia.

Heightened interest in what members of parliament get up to and what they do and do not
tell us, with the Sydney Morning Herald revealing that many benefit from free travel without disclosing who pays, and similar reports elsewhere. As reported in The Age Independent Senator Nick Xenophon wants all MPs to declare sponsored travel to parliament (within 60 days of taking their trip) and to reveal the funding source of any sponsored trips on a public website.(What's surprising about this is that it isn't the case already.) If they fail to declare their travel within time they will have to repay the cost of the trip in full.

Senator Xenophon said the changes will provide a level of scrutiny that the Australian taxpayer expects, and of course he is right, but gifts of travel are just part of the picture as mentioned here last week.

My letter sent yesterday to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald didn't (weep) make it into print today- I know, one sentence always beats a couple of hundred words:
"The failure of Joel Fitgibbon to declare two gift trips to China, and your follow-up report that almost one in four MPs have accepted free overseas travel (“MPs hooked on Chinese junkets” March 28-29) raise the broader issue of transparency and our parliamentarians. The Register of Interests, updated and search enabled to allow the broader community to look at cross links such as gifts to different members from the same source is not published on Parliament’s website. Parliament has never thought it necessary apparently. That’s just the tip of an iceberg of what we don’t know about members and senators, for example their use of large chunks of our own money paid to them as electoral and other allowances. Some information is publicly released by the Department of Finance and Deregulation twice a year on travel and the use of cars, but it is limited and no, it’s not published on the web either.

Minister Faulkner last week outlined a future where much more government information will be automatically posted on the web and where the Freedom of Information Act in future will encourage, not discourage public participation in government, and increase scrutiny of government activities. The reform package represents action finally on many of the recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 1995. One not acted upon was that the parliamentary departments that spend taxpayers money on and for our parliamentarians should be brought under the Act, as is the case for example in the UK, but nowhere in this country. Parliaments in Scotland and New Zealand are just two of those that publish on the web declarations of interests and Scotland in addition includes details of the expenditure of every taxpayers’ dollar by every member. Our government and parliament should deliver transparency to this standard."

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