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Monday, June 07, 2010

Most parliaments fail modern standards on transparency of interests and entitlements

There is plenty of gory detail around about government in NSW with two more ministerial resignations on Friday, bringing to four the number of frontbenchers to resign in the last two weeks. The Premier herself is now caught up in the saga, and three inquiries are underway, including a referral to the ICAC. According to those who claim to be counting there have been169 or 215 ministerial changes since the 2007 election.

The resignation of Regional Development and Major Events Minister Ian MacDonald followed reports by Linton Besser of the Sydney Morning Herald about $30000 in flight upgrades that were not declared on the Pecuniary Interest Register, and the final straw, courtesy of documents released to the Opposition in response to a Freedom of Information application, that the taxpayer, not as MacDonald claimed, himself, who paid $2800 for an economy airfare to Dubai in 2008. That trip took place before ministers were instructed last year to publish details about their overseas travel, the subject of this recent reminder from Premier Keneally:
Already, Ministers proactively release certain information on the Internet, including copies of all of their media releases (see M2008-18 (Availability of Ministers’ media release on NSW Government Agency Websites)) and (see M2009-10 (Release of Overseas Travel Information).
M 2009-10 to ministers was issued by former Premier Rees a year ago.

The whole area of entitlements and use of taxpayers money by ministers and members of parliament is still unacceptably opaque here. When UK Treasury Chief Secretary David Laws resigned recently over a kerfuffle about allowance payments, anyone interested could check  The Green Book, the House of Commons Guide to Members Allowances to see the rules and where Laws went astray. But when questions were raised in NSW about flight upgrades and whether they should be publicly declared,  the Premier said it was a grey area, journalists were able to quote from the handbook and advice was sought. But good luck to anyone trying to find Parliament's guidance to members on entitlements on the internet- I can't find a sign of it on NSW Parliament's  website. The Register of Members Pecuniary Interests isn't on the web either. Imre Saluzinsky in The Australian said the latest edition available for inspection is 2008-2009!

Parliamentary handbooks about entitlements and the rules that apply to payments administered by parliament are hard to find in other jurisdictions as well- I couldn't find any on a quick look, but happy to be corrected.

The South Australian Parliament seems to be ahead in publishing online an annual report on members interests and an annual reports on travel by individual members, although not even close to real time. And of course Tasmania from 1 July will be the only Australian jurisdiction where the right to information (concerning matters of an administrative nature) will extend to parliament itself.

It's an area crying out for the application of high standards of transparency. And disclosure on the internet, not by horse and buggy means.  

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:12 am

    Dear Premier Keneally,

    Please call an election now.


    The people of NSW.