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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Missed opportunity to illustrate the new era of openness

Following the release last Friday of the six monthly report (to July 2007) on travel by members and former members of Federal Parliament, depending on which paper you read, you may have seen that Prime Minister (then Opposition Leader) Rudd topped the list with $300,000 in travel and expenses; that then Defence Minister (now Opposition Leader) Brendan Nelson spent $74,000 on a trip to the United States; and various other tidbits about former members with that gold pass for life that entitles them to 25 domestic air travel tickets per year.

Like to read the report? Sorry folks, the report isn't generally available except through contact now with the Table Officer of the Parliament.

The news reports were based on paper copies distributed to the Parliamentary Press Gallery. The report itself should have been tabled before Parliament rose last year for the election but somehow the Howard Government didn't get around to it.

I went looking for it on the web but came up with nothing but then spoke to Minister of State Faulkner's Press Secretary (who distributed it) and the Manager of the Ministerial and Parliamentary Services Division of the Department of Finance (who prepared it). No, no consideration had been given to publication on the web. The reports have always simply been tabled in Parliament. It seemed to come as a completely unexpected suggestion that the new government, and the promised 'improved transparency' might take the bold step of putting this sort of information into the public domain for anyone to access.

Senator Faulkner should be working on the basis that his leadership and direction will need to be given on issues such as this. After a couple of months in office, there is a need to put on the thinking cap on how to illustrate the difference between the old and the new. The public service isn't of its own volition about to push the envelope too far.

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