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Monday, April 27, 2009

No sign of transparency for MPs allowance spending

A fuss of sorts today over a Remuneration Tribunal Determination to increase the electoral allowance for Federal senators and members of the House of Representatives by $4700, the first increase for years. Guardians of the public purse such as Senator Bob Brown threaten disallowance when the matter comes before the Senate.

I don't have a problem with the umpires assessment that an increase is justified.But I'm back on an old hobby-horse to point out that there is no transparency about what the pollies do with the money.The electoral allowance (details here as part of the bigger payment picture)-currently ranging from $27300 to $39600- is "an expense of office allowance payable to Senators and Members to reimburse them for costs necessarily incurred in providing services to their constituents."It's taxable income, but If not spent - and no-one knows what is paid to whom, and for what purpose- it goes in the pocket

Parliamentarians should be required to acquit the allowance by reporting what happened to the money.It's not just this allowance either that doesn't receive public scrutiny. For some unexplained reason (duh!) the Government, in the recently announced Freedom Of Information Reform package has not acted upon a 1995 Australian Law Reform Commission recommendation ( ALRC 72, Recommendation 73) that the parliamentary departments (who dole the money out to members and senators) should be covered by the FOI Act. Even that wouldn't go far enough to meet expectations these days - information about expenditure and retention of any allowance payments should be up on the web for all to see. An exception of course for identifying particulars of any money paid to a constituent in financial hardship, if any allowance was used in this way.

The same goes for state and territory parliaments and parliamentarians.

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