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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Australian media find an MPs story in our own backyard after all

Australian MPs allowances-not just the UK debacle- make news today with various calls for increased accountability and transparency. My two cents worth for several years has been that the administration of parliament-including the payment of public moneys to parliamentarians-should be subject to the same standards as any other government agency. That is, subject to audit, freedom of information and any other relevant laws.This year's Federal budget papers list the three parliamenentary departments as having combined funds available of $318 million, including $45 million for various entitlements of parliamentarians. The Parliamentary Services Branch of the Department of Finance and Deregulation which provides them and former members with facilities and services has $390 million. It's not easy working out between them who pays for what, or even what the entitlements are or the rules and guidelines for payments. Finance is subject to the Freedom of Information Act; the parliamentary departments aren't.

I don't have a problem with MPs spending their travel allowance to buy a home, or for one to pay another, or a faceless landlord, hotel, friend, relative or supporter for the privilege of a roof over the head when away from home-just that we should know how the money is spent. The same rules should apply to electoral, printing, communication or other allowances, or if they employ spouses or family members in their office, an issue raised in the Herald Sun today.

It should be the same story at state and territory level. Emma Chalmers writing in the Courier Mail in Brisbane finds the Canberra scene of interest but fails to mention that the Right to Information Bill tabled in the Queensland Parliament this week won't apply to that institution.No issue about payments to state parliamentarians there? My article published in New Matilda earlier in the week listed the various payments to NSW parliamentarians that are not subject to public scrutiny

The NSW Auditor General yesterday released the Audit of Members' Additional Entitlements finding members "substantially complied" with the Remuneration Tribunal's Determination- except on one point that no-one monitors whether they are using frequent flyer points for our benefit as stipulated, or theirs. The Report refers to a consultant's review of the system and changes as a result, to commence on 1 July, but no sign of that on Parliament's website and no, the Parliament won't be covered by the proposed NSW Open Government Information Bill now on the table for public comment

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