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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What about Australian MPs' allowances and expenses?

The UK MPs' expenses issue- 1626 articles listed in a Google news search this morning-continues to be big news there. Heather Brooke and her "Your Right to Know" blog deserve the credit for pushing against the odds for four years for transparency and accountability from parliamentarians for allowance and expense reimbursements.Before the latest furore The Westminster Gravy train shown on Channel 4 last month was based on Brooke's work. Brooke was assisted in her campaign by the UK Freedom of Information Act which applies to the houses of parliament. Martin Rosenbaum on Open Secrets gives a potted history of how this came to pass, finally the result of this conclusion reached by members of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration in 1999:
"There are many administrative functions carried out within Parliament which, it seems to us, do not need to be protected, any more than do those of the police. The justification for the exclusion of Parliament has not been made out. The exclusion may well convey the wrong impression to the general public, given the purpose of this legislation."
In Australia our systems for payments to MPs at Federal, state and territory level seem to vary from the opaque to the murky. It emerged in a Senate Estimates Committee hearing earlier this year even for some payments made by the Federal Department of Finance and Deregulation on behalf of MPs (subject to scrutiny but only part of the picture) some members have refused for years to sign off a statement that the expenditure was properly incurred.This is a fail grade on Accountability 101. Many of the allowances paid to parliamentarians require no certification or receive any scrutiny.

Meanwhile amidst all the positive talk about transparency and accountability our leaders tell us Freedom of Information laws should not apply to parliament- no correspondence to be entered into.Can anyone explain why the conclusions of the UK House Committee- particularly concerning the impression of the general public- don't apply equally here?

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