Special Minister of State Senator Ludwig made a statement on the matter in Parliament yesterday saying it would be inappropriate to comment on the audit at this stage. He noted that the parliamentary entitlements framework "is overly complex, based as it is on a mixture of primary legislation, regulations, Remuneration Tribunal determinations, procedural rules, circulars, guidelines, executive decisions and conventions", and listed the Government's initiatives on transparency and accountability reforms, concluding
".. that no area, including the area of parliamentary entitlements, is beyond the reach of reform. A package of reforms is currently under consideration by the government, the details of which will be released in due course."The Minister prefaced his remarks by referring to the audit "into the administration of parliamentarians’ entitlements by the Department of Finance and Deregulation" which of course would not extend to the administration of some entitlements by the parliamentary departments. Neither he nor Senator Ronaldson, who spoke for the Opposition, made any reference to the general issue of the need for greater transparency and accountability for the legislative arm of government, which will spend over $300 million this year in addition to the $390 million in parliamentarians' entitlements administered by Finance.
Could the Minister's "package of reforms" extend to implementing the recommendation 14 years ago by the Australian Law Reform Commission that "The parliamentary departments should be made subject to the FOI Act", a recommendation so far ignored in any of the Government's public ruminating on FOI reform proposals? Or doing something about a situation referred to by the Auditor General as follows in 2001, as noted here previously:
"a key area in which some overseas models reviewed, particularly those of Canada and the United States, differed from the approach currently taken in respect of the Australian Federal Parliament is that they provide for significantly greater levels of public disclosure of the guidelines and/or rules that govern entitlements’ expenditure by the members of the respective legislatures; and of the costs incurred by the individual members."On the broader FOI reform front, the Minister didn't have much joy for those who have been watching the clock tick these past 21 months, simply indicating in his statement:
"I anticipate that the final legislation will be introduced as soon as possible and certainly well before the end of the year."Thanks to Open Australia for the Hansard alert and link - eat your heart out those in Queensland who would like to know more about what goes on in state parliament.