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Monday, September 03, 2012

Polly perks, lobbying, probity, sunshine...

From Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald further instalment about the scribbled system of disclosure of parliamentarians' interests and extras on the side:
An Australian National University professor who has written extensively on accountability, Richard Mulgan, says transparency is vital. "There is a very strong court of public opinion when it comes to parliamentarians," he says. "This is where transparency seems to me to be key. Politicians do live in a glass house and it's harder for them to get away with things."
But the present regime of disclosures presents many hurdles to accountability - not least because the forms are scratched in handwriting on unsearchable pages that must be examined individually. In the words of John Uhr, a professor of politics at ANU, the present system of disclosures "has still got a kind of 'club rule' about it, where the information is registered with the club official for club purposes"....
Australia's parliamentarians are not subject to many of the checks and balances that govern behaviour of parliamentarians in other Western democracies...Most politicians who accept gifts and lavish trips don't have to meet standards expected of federal public servants, whose behaviour must comply with a code of conduct.... The requirements for politicians to reveal duchessing and the like are based on a list of necessary disclosures set down in 1984 for members of the House of Representatives and 1994 for members of the Senate, and hardly changed since. The lists of disclosure are often obscure, poorly framed and inconsistent between the two houses... Confidence in the overall state of disclosures - and their ability to provide the "glass house" envisaged by Professor Mulgan - is not helped by omissions, opaque or illegible reporting and silliness.
Reminder: Prime Minister Gillard on forming government in August 2010 :
So, let's draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in; let our parliament be more open than it ever was before.
Reminder: the  Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee in March 2012 concluded everything was rosy with how the current regulation of lobbyists and lobbying in the form of a registration requirement is framed and works in practice. No recommendations for improvement according to the majority. The Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon in a dissenting report strongly disagreed and made eight recommendations for major change.
(Update: Senator Rhiannon reiterated the call last week for publication of "full details of MP’s interests, entitlements and perks online rather than unsearchable formats and paper records gathering dust in Canberra.")

Reminder: a  review of the system of parliamentarians entitlements commenced in September 2009 with the appointment of the Belcher committee, following critical findings about accountability and transparency by the Auditor General. The Committee Report came into the public domain when tabled in Parliament in March 2011, close to a year after it had been completed and handed to the government. "We are committed to reform, openness and transparency to ensure that we maintain the trust and confidence of the Australian people,” Senator Ludwig, the minister then responsible had said at the time the Committee was appointed.

Some improvements have been made since 2009 in public reporting on payments made by the Department of Finance separately from the Belcher review process, but that's just part of the picture- and the parliamentary departments are subject to the FOI act at least for the moment. Minister Gray in March 2011in announcing that two (of 16) Belcher committee recommendations had been acted upon, said the remaining recommendations had been referred to the Remuneration Tribunal, although some have nothing to do with that body. The minister said nothing then or since about when the tribunal should complete its work or when if at all the government will act on the recommendations.

Reminder: Speaker Peter Slipper and President of the Senate Senator John Hogg have said nothing on any of these issues.

Reminder: members of Federal (and state) parliament were rated very high or high for honesty and ethics in the Roy Morgan Survey of Professionals May 2012 by 10% of those surveyed- just ahead of the last three of 30 categories, real estate agents, advertising people and used car salesmen.

Ah, you've got to love 'em.

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