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Monday, March 02, 2009

Some parliamentarians give accountability the flick-no names, no pack drill.

Senators and members of parliament cost the taxpayer a lot of money. Value for money is one open question but a high level of transparency and accountability should be a matter of course.
Not so. Working out what their entitlements are is complex in itself-the Parliamentary Briefing Book helps. But the link on that page to the Senators and Members Entitlements Handbook doesn't work and you get this complete blank if you search on the Department of Finance and Deregulation- the Department that produced it- website.

This isn't anything new.In August 2001 the Auditor General tabled a report on Parliamentarians' Entitlements: 1999-2000. After reviewing overseas models the Report concluded
"... in regard to Canada and the United States, they provide for significantly greater levels of public disclosure than is the case in the Australian Federal system of both the guideline and/or rules that govern entitlements’ expenditure by the members of the respective legislatures; and of the costs incurred by the individual members.". ANAO identified scope for further improvement relating to "the potential for the accountability framework to be enhanced through the public reporting of Parliamentarians’ use of those entitlements; and enhancement of the control framework for the public money involved."
We have commented previously on several aspects- the failure to put travel allowance details on the web and the failure to disclose anything at all about a wide range of other payments and actual expenditure.One answer to the problem is that the houses of parliament should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 1995. Pro-active disclosure on the web would be a better solution.

There are other continuing flaws in the system. Last week in the Senate Finance and Public Administration Estimates hearing involving Finance and Deregulation, issues were raised about the requirement that senators and members certify that a monthly report provided to them by the Department on payments made on their behalf records the use of public money consistent with their entitlements. This issue was alive in 2001 when it was an annual requirement and the Auditor General reported about one third failed to provide the certification.

In 2009 things are no better- still about the same percentage haven't provided a certification in any month this year and some are what an official described as "recalcitrants" who never certify. No names were mentioned.There apparently are questions about the accuracy of information in the reports, but a qualified certification is acceptable. The discussion is in the transcript of the Committee hearing for 24 February at 68-71.Nothing about this is ever tabled in Parliament.

So far no-one seems to care too much but Senator Faulkner warns naming and shaming is not far off.

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