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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Parliamentary entitlements not public administration's finest hour

The documents that were the basis for Sean Parnell's article in The Australian yesterday about the handling of the Belcher report are posted in the Disclosure Log (11/13) on the Finance website. Parnell looks to have made something out of not much at all.

More significant is the publication (a welcome step in line with the spirit of FOI reform) of the report by Helen Williams, Review of the Administration of Parliamentary Entitlements by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, that first came to attention when Special Minister of State Gray released the Belcher report in March. The Minister's comment at the time was that the "review found that greater client focus and more effective administration by the department would be facilitated by a clearer and more integrated entitlements framework." 

Well yes, but it also reveals an administrative system in need of major changes, marked as it is by problems arising from divided responsibilities, system deficiencies, outdated and administratively burdensome procedures, lack of clarity about key aspects of entitlements, limited guidance, and accountability weaknesses. It makes recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Department to be implemented by July 2012, regarding
  • Alternative Service Delivery Models
  • Written Guidance on Entitlements
  • Communications and Advice
  • Improving Accessibility
  • Reporting for Management and Accountability
  • Balancing Facilitation and Control in Administration
  • System Improvements and
  • Other Process Improvements
While the report acknowledges the importance of transparency, there is little specific about improving this aspect of the system. On that front, it remains to be seen what emerges when (if?) the Government (and the Parliament) responds to the Belcher recommendations. Unfortunately no one is talking about something comprehensive, streamlined and searchable such as the system used in Scotland to publish information about parliamentarians' expenditure of public money.

In the meantime (!) you can find the detail of taxi and Comcar use by Deputy Speaker Slipper between July and December 2009, recently posted on the Finance Disclosure Log (10/61) and how much each parliamentarian spent on toner cartridges in September and October 2009 (10/65).

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