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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

All payments to all parliamentarians should be published online

Alicia Wood in the Sydney Morning Herald
..."the head of Infrastructure NSW, Nick Greiner, has cost taxpayers millions over the past 20 years because of entitlements given to former premiers who have served for at least four years. According to figures released by the Department of Premier and Cabinet as part of a freedom of information request, Mr Greiner has claimed the most in entitlements over the past three years. He is followed by Neville Wran and Bob Carr."
Cimexus-Flickr CCL
This sort of information should be routinely published without the need for a GIPA application, as is the case with payments by the Department of Finance and Deregulation to and on behalf of former prime ministers (and former federal parliamentarians). That department also publishes online, twice a year information about payments made to and on behalf of current members and senators. The detail and timeliness provides another sharp contrast with disclosures concerning current NSW parliamentarians. There, global figures for categories of annual sums paid  to each member are buried away in appendices to the annual reports of the Department of the Legislative Assembly 2010-2011 pdf-Appendix G) and Legislative Council (Annual Report 2010/2011 pdf-Appendix I).

(The information released by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet is yet to make it onto the department's Disclosure Log.)

I haven't checked out recently or thoroughly the transparency situation regarding payments to parliamentarians in the other states  Access to information may vary depending on whether  some or all entitlements are paid by an executive government agency such as NSW P&C (subject to FOI/RTI) or a parliamentary department-Tasmania is the only jurisdiction where the access to information law extends to parliament itself (concerning matters of an administrative nature). As to the Federal scene where some payments in addition to those made by Finance are made by the parliamentary departments see yesterday's post. In February 2009, the presiding officers in NSW and the government of the day dismissed the suggestion by the Ombudsman that consideration be given to extending access to information legislation to the parliament. In Queensland expenses of ministers and former ministers are administered by Ministerial Services Branch of the Premier's Department (subject to the RTI act) but the Legislative Assembly and its parliamentary services department that pays on behalf of members are entities excluded from the act. 

The South Australian Parliament publishes online an annual report on members interests and an annual report on travel by individual members, although not even close to real time. 

The administration of all our parliaments-including any payment made to parliamentarians-should be subject to the same standards as any other government agency. That is, subject to freedom of information law, but  these days published in a timely fashion on the internet (not buried away in an annual report).

Back to NSW. The Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2009 questioned whether the Parliament had in place a sufficiently comprehensive program to identify and manage corruption risks in relation to the use of Members’ allowances and entitlements. In findings of corrupt conduct against former NSW MP Karyn Paluzanno and members of her staff, the Commission Report (Chapter 3 page 20) included a recommendation that the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly consider whether a recently embraced audit program "has the capacity to detect corrupt conduct and, if not develop, implement and regularly evaluate a corruption prevention strategy that includes:
• a comprehensive risk assessment of the corruption risks in relation to the use of Members’ allowances and entitlements
• a corruption risk management plan describing the corruption risks identified and the strategies Parliament will adopt to manage each of these risks
• measures capable of detecting corrupt conduct and non-compliance by Members and electorate office staff."
The Commission advocates generally that corruption risk is best managed by identifying and managing in a comprehensive manner those organisational features that allow corruption to occur and possibly go unnoticed or unreported. Dare I say, proper accountability, and appropriate transparency must be an essential part of any such plan.

Two years later this seems to have dropped from sight. This is the only reference in the Annual Report for 2010-2011:
The Members’ Entitlements Audit Plan commenced in 2009/10 and will continue in 2011/12 covering both the 54th and 55th Parliament Members...
"Appropriate transparency" regarding payment and use of public money to and by parliamentarians isn't evident in NSW.

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