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Monday, November 19, 2012

NSW parliament disclosures fine-by 1689 standards

The Sydney Morning Herald published my letter today (scan down to "Publish MP disclosures online") with an edit that makes the final reference to 1689 even more obscure. Here's the text as submitted, with links. The letter was in response to Linton Besser and Kate McClymont at the weekend" Inquiry opens Pandora's box of extensive dealings"
about Eddie Obeid which kicks off " He is not the man his bare pecuniary interest register has depicted."

"The O'Farrell government took action in parliament recently to legislate to remove doubt as to the ability of the ICAC to consider and make findings in relation to the Registers of Disclosures of Members of Parliament. Entries in the name Obeid and Macdonald are now proving interesting and illuminating.

The President of the Legislative Council had queried whether parliamentary privilege, "by operation of the 1689 Bill of Rights," applied to the registers. As the Premier explained, the legislation was necessary to allow the registers to be accessed and utilised by the ICAC "even though they are already publicly available and open to public scrutiny."

The registers are available for inspection between 10 am and 4 pm if you find yourself in Macquarie St on a weekday, but not otherwise. A few journalists occasionally bring some entries to the attention of a wider audience.

Premier O'Farrell told parliament that scrutiny of the registers by ICAC "will not impact adversely on the business of Parliament. It will not inhibit debate. It will not undermine freedom of speech. It will not impede any activities that members of Parliament undertake in the exercise of their representative and parliamentary duties. To the contrary, what it will do is to enhance the integrity and standing of this place. It will further reinforce why it is important for all members to make full and proper disclosure in accordance with the 1983 constitution regulation."

True. But that applies in spades if the registers were to be published on-line, close to real time. With the potential added bonus that more eyeballs might ensure we are aware of sources of gifts and income from second jobs as well as the mysteries and discrepancies.

The same applies to payments of allowances and entitlements and other expenditure by the parliament for and on behalf of members. At present the global amount paid to each is published but buried away in appendices to the annual reports of the departments of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. No details of payments made are provided and the reports can relate to expenditure incurred up to 12 months previously.

The payments are a small part of the $139 million allocated to the parliament in the 2012-13 budget. Parliament is not subject to right to information legislation that applies to state government agencies. The then presiding officers waved off the Rees government when it made an initial inquiry about taking such a step in 2009.

Time for change, Premier.

After all it's 2012 not 1689.
Peter Timmins.
As readers will know the Commonwealth parliamentary departments are subject to FOI - for the moment at least.

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