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Monday, October 31, 2011

Parliament above transparency and accountability law

The Sunday Herald Sun, fresh from its sister publication finding the Governor's office is a Freedom of Information no go zone, has discovered the Victorian Parliament is out of bounds as well:
Millions of dollars of taxpayers' money is poured into the Department of Parliamentary Services each year to pay for MPs' electorate offices, official functions, staff wages and the everyday operations of Parliament. The department also pays for the cars our parliamentarians drive, their petrol bills, computer and IT costs, utilities and postage and communications bills. But - in another example of the Baillieu Government not living up to its "open and transparent" election promise - every dollar spent in the Parliament will remain exempt under Freedom of Information laws.
When asked, the Premier and Opposition leader both didn't see the need for any change. neither did the parliamentary officers, and all agreed an annual report that contains global expenditure figures should be just fine for accountability hounds.Hardly. Parliaments receive hundreds of millions to carry out public functions, administer themselves and for various payments to and for and on behalf of parliamentarians.

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As pointed out for years, this FOI exclusion is replicated in every Australian jurisdiction, except Tasmania where the parliament (and the governor) would seem to be subject to the Right to Information Act concerning matters of administration. Federally, no one speaks the FOI words when it comes to parliament and the government continues to dither about recommendations including for improvements in transparency regarding member entitlements. Member and senator expense claims paid by the Department of Finance (but not payments administered by the parliamentary departments) are published. The South Australian parliament publishes an annual travel expense report listing individual members expenditure.

On the broader issue just about everywhere beyond the Apple Isle, it's let them eat cake.(Update: This Courier Mail report in the last few days on Queensland legislators' expense claims is sourced to Right to Information disclosures. From whom is not mentioned, but something of a mystery as the Legislative Assembly and its parliamentary services department are entities excluded from the act. Mystery solved -thanks to a Queensland reader, these details relate to expenses of ministers and former ministers administered by Ministerial Services Branch of the Premier's Department. That department is subject to the RTI act.)

The Legislature in all jurisdictions should be subject to freedom of information law regarding administrative functions just as the courts are in most places.

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