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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Integrity agenda for the king makers

With a handful of independents and a Green in the box seat to determine who governs, and some suggesting "doing government and parliament differently" is at the centre of concerns, here's an off the top of the head list of things worth throwing into the mix.

Political donations
A ban on anything other than small individual donations, and a limit on spending. If not that courageous, action on the Government's proposal to reduce the anonymous donation threshold to $1000, with something close to real time disclosure on the web  of donations.

The three sitting independents know what would best get parliament working properly, including changes to question time, how to ensure more effective committee work etc, but hopefully they dust off speeches on the subject by their former colleague, the late Peter Andren. Oh and not just action to bring the parliamentary departments in under the Freedom of Information Act (as recommended by the ALRC in 1995, and ignored entirely by the Government in the recent reforms) but require on line publication of details of payments to and expenditure by members and senators. Appoint an independent arbiter to rule on Government refusals (on public interest immunity grounds) in both chambers to provide information or table documents- call for help from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam who knows about this stuff.

Three years on the real rubber is still to hit the road on FOI reform, with some changes due to start on 1 November and others on 1 May next year. Call the Information Commissioner John McMillan in and ask what can be done immediately to get things started now. Also ask what changes to powers are needed to ensure he can crack the whip to make the government a model for transparency and accountability.  Ensure there are performance measures in this area for those at the top of the tree, and grab concepts, such as offence provisions for those who improperly influence decisions, from the state laws. If the Coalition is in the room, tell them the plan by Senator Brandis to return responsibility for FOI to the Attorney General's Department is a silly idea. Get a reference to the ALRC to look at disclosure in the private sector through FOI or a similar regime, as proposed by Senator Faulkner 18 months ago, but barely heard of since. Bend Senator Ludlam's ear on this as well. I've got more ideas if you need them...

Whistleblower legislation
This is coming, we've been told, but so is christmas. Get the bill the Government said it would introduce into parliament straight away. Call Senator Xenophon about what should be done about consideration of a pardon for Allan Kessing. If you are talking to Minister Albanese, ask for a statement about his office's role in disclosure of information to The Australian after Kessing contacted him.

Secrecy laws
The Government has had an ALRC report on Australia's 500+ secrecy laws since last December, but is yet to say a word about it publicly. Insist on action now to act on at least one crucial recommendation-to repeal section 70 of the Crimes Act which makes it an offence to disclose information without authorisation, to be replaced by a provision that links any criminal offence to an intentional or reckless disclosure that harms a specified public interest.

Minister Ludwig's discussion paper in June on possible enhancements to the registration scheme just doesn't cut it-the first proposal was for an industry association (read lobbyist) for lobbyists! Get a quick run down on what they require in Canada, from someone like Professor John Warhurst, and insist on action to move in that direction.

Yes you can!

Readers suggestions welcome....


  1. Anonymous5:19 pm

    Reducing the contract value limit for public listing. Requiring a clearer to understand and meaningful description of the contract.

    Consolidating the mess of
    information provided under the 'Harradine list' of departmental files into (again) a standard, easier to read format.

  2. Yes, I'm sure in 2010 there is a much better way to provide useful information about departmental files than the Harradine requirement of when, twenty five years ago?

  3. Marty8:27 am

    Thanks Peter for posting on the forum site. Certainly these issues do need to be raised & I am sure that Tony Windsor will remember Peter Andren's views on these issues as they go through the negotiating process.

  4. Anonymous10:21 am

    How about the Government actually finishes its response to the whole of the ALRC report into Privacy.

    The ALRC found that the web of interconnecting yet separate privacy and access legislation across the seven jurisdictions is confusing. It's going to be even worse if QLD and VIC forge ahead on their own paths.