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Friday, December 07, 2007

How things change, and it's not yet two weeks

"Transparency and accountability" were a leifmotif this week in Canberra. In so many ways, this government is using these issues to make it very clear that we have a new government with a different perspective. It beats walking around with a sign saying "We are not the Howard Government", and it's just as effective.

Special Minister of State, John Faulkner, said the Government would look at getting rid of the Howard Government $10,000 threshold for anonymous political donations.
"It's all about transparency in the political process. If you have a massive increase to the threshold (from $1500 to $10,000 in legislation passed by Parliament last year), the public has no knowledge of those donations at all. They remain secret. Our party has consistently argued that we oppose those increases in the disclosure threshold".
Of course the new Independent Senator Elect Xenophon was right to say that we need to do something more than this with regard to political donations. Xenophon says that political parties that take the available public funding should be subject to restrictions on private donations. And more immediate public disclosure of campaign donations is needed in this day and age. Information is only publicly available following annual returns lodged by political parties. Surely we should expect notification to the Electoral Commission and publication within weeks, particularly donations made during the course of the election campaign.

In the Ministerial Code of Conduct released yesterday, the Prime Minister has set high standards for ministers. (The boffins are obviously struggling at the moment - the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet website as at the time of posting, hasn't managed to list anything about the Code). However, back to ministerial standards:
"The Australian people are entitled to expect the highest standards of behaviour from their elected representatives in general and ministers in particular".
The Code spells out requirements for disclosure of interests, and puts limits on post separation employment for ministers. It's still a bit hazy on a couple of issues such as ministerial advisers and whether they answer to parliament.

However the Government is to introduce an online public register listing lobbyists and who they represent, with an update every six months. Registration will be a prerequisite for contact with the Government. Again a query, why shouldn't we expect notification of new clients immediately? And who is a lobbyist for this purpose?

At least it's a start, although a long way short of best practice - here are a few thoughts from Marian Wilkinson earlier in the year.

As mentioned here previously, WA has a register, Victoria has talked about it, and surprise, surprise, NSW thinks it would be "too hard".

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