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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Better parliament- guaranteed!

Well let's hope so, no matter who ends up governing, to be revealed later in the day.

The Agreement on Parliamentary Reform that the independents led by Rob Oakeshott negotiated with both major parties is a great win for parliament and parliamentarians in a battle for power that parliament has been losing since the emergence of the modern political party with the numbers to govern and an ironclad grip on the House of Representatives. We'll have to wait and see what the various deals, announced and unannounced amount to, and what happens in practice once the dust settles, but elements of the agreement of particular interest on the integrity, accountability and transparency front include:

Response to committee reports 
Required within six months (not sure if this is new) and the Minister to appear before the relevant Committee at the next reasonably available opportunity to answer questions. "Following this, issues of dispute between a Parliamentary Committee and an Executive will be referred to the Auditor-General for further follow-up, clarification, and attempted resolution". (Not sure how this fits with Labor's agreement with The Greens that would have the Information Commissioner arbitrate on public interest immunity claims.) "Timely response to committee reports to be included as a Key Performance indicator in employment arrangements of Agency Heads."

Parliamentary Budget Office
"A Parliamentary Budget Office be established, based in the Parliamentary Library, to provide independent costings, fiscal analysis and research to all members of parliament, especially non-government members."

Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner
"This commissioner would be supervised by the privileges committee from both House and Senate to provide advice, administration and reporting on parliamentary entitlements, investigate and make recommendations to the Privileges Committees on individual investigations, provide advice to parliamentarians on ethical issues and uphold the Parliamentary Code of Conduct and control and maintain the Government’s Lobbyists register." ( Let's hope this extends to new commitments to transparency and accountability for money spent by the parliamentary departments including on and by parliamentarians.)
Members Code of Conduct
"A cross-party working group and inquiry process will be established to draft a code of conduct for members of the House and the Senate. Once established, this code will be overseen by the Privileges committee." (This should include something about parliamentarians dealings with lobbyists.)
Register of Lobbyists
"Further enhancements to the Register of Lobbyists be examined, including to the online publication of the Register and to place the register under the supervision of the Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner."(The Register is already published online. It only covers third party lobbyists who seek to contact ministers and public servants. Extension to parliamentarians, enhancement of disclosure requirements, and enforcement mechanisms for standards of conduct is what is needed. I'm sure the tentativeness in this area owes nothing to the fact that Bruce Hawker and Grahame Morris have been advising the independents.)
Other "Better Government" Improvements
"It is expected, through the life of this Parliament, and with Private Members Bills now having the ability to be voted on, that there will be further steps taken to improve Government in the following way; Open and Accountable Government improvements; Further steps on improving democratic operation of the Parliament; Electoral Funding Improvements; Truth in Political Advertising improvements." (Yes, we live in hope.)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:15 pm

    Here's a couple of urls for audio interviews on the topic of regulation of lobbying and features John Warhurst (ANU):

    ABC mp3

    and political donations/front groups and features Lee Rhiannon (Australian Greens):
    Triple J mp3

    I was very pleased to see the Greens Democracy4Sale site.

    Comments are now open on Joe Ludwigs review of the laws regulating professional lobbyists. The closing date says 20 Sept but last time I looked at the online database for lobbyists where the discussion paper is linked, the closing date for comments was 30 Sept.