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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Reform, openness, transparency- for parliamentarians

The Australian National Audit Office Report Administration of Parliamentarians' Entitlements by the Department of Finance and Deregulation was tabled in Federal Parliament today (Steve Lewis of News had a couple of pre-release exclusives). Its not a happy tale of a cosy generally opaque system that has gone merrily along since the last comprehensive review (in 1971!!!!) with limited regard for the sort of standards we should expect, even when (make that particularly when) our politicians are on the receiving end of a swag of public money. All aided by a "gentle approach" to oversight by the Department of Finance and Deregulation. More on that in another post.

The good news was this announcement by Special Minister of State in response that the Government has accepted all the ANAO recommendations and major reforms to the parliamentarians' entitlements are on the way, in two phases.
"We are committed to reform, openness and transparency to ensure that we maintain the trust and confidence of the Australian people,” Senator Ludwig said.
From 1 October:
  • a further 25% cut to the current printing entitlement, from $100,000 to $75,000 per annum for Members and $16,667 to $12,500 for Senators (this is in addition to the 33% cut by the Rudd Government when elected to office);
  • ending the use of printing entitlements for electioneering such as printing how to vote cards;
  • capping, for the first time, expenditure by MPs on office consumables such as toner and paper;
  • combining the current printing and communications allowance entitlements into a single entitlement;
  • establishing a rigorous vetting and checking system within the Department of Finance to ensure the material Members and Senators print is within entitlement;
  • reforming the current newspapers and periodicals allowance; and
  • expanding the current reporting system to publish all expenditure of Senators, Members, former Parliamentarians, family members and employees, of entitlements administered by the Department of Finance and Deregulation. ( I understand "online" despite the fact Report the media release didn't mention this.)
Other matters- including reform of a complex framework based on "a mix of Acts and Regulations, Remuneration Tribunal Determinations, Ministerial determinations, executive decisions, procedural rules, non-binding conventions and ‘accepted practices" - have been referred to a panel for report within six months. I don't see the terms of reference anywhere but ABC News quotes the Minister or some source that it will cover
".. entitlements provided at Parliament House itself, remuneration allowances including the current electorate allowance, private plated vehicles, overseas study travel, entitlements to life gold pass and severance travel, entitlements of former prime ministers."
Particularly pleased that the entitlements administered by the Parliamentary Departments (which include payment of electoral allowance as a straight no questions asked entitlement, period) is to be under the microscope.

Memo state governments:take a leaf out of this book.

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