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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Transparency in use of taxpayers' money still way short of what we should expect

Readers with a long memory might recall references here to Operation Sunlight an initiative of the Rudd government following years when points were raised by one time Democrats Senator Andrew Murray about the need to improve the openness and transparency of public sector budgetary and financial management. 

And the International Budgetary Partnership in 2010 that didn't even bother to rate our efforts at budget transparency.

Ross Gittins highlighted shortcomings in budget transparency a year ago.
So interesting to see the submission from Australian Information Commissioner John McMillan on the Commonwealth Financial Accountability Review (the Review) discussion paper Is Less More? Towards Better Commonwealth Performance particularly concerning  ‘Enhancing transparency and accountability' and ‘Improving performance'. 

All directed to making Australian Government financial information more available and more useful to the public. 

There are a number of important suggestions in the submission. One that commands attention is that the Review consider developing a list of financial information that should be published by agencies under the FOI Information Publishing Scheme. I'd go further and legislate for publication of many of these expenditures:
  • Educational expenses and study leave paid to staff
  • Expenditure on executive coaching, leadership training and media training
  • Paid parental leave
  • Employee expenses as a proportion of the agency budget
  • Expenditure on hospitality and entertainment
  • The value of consultancies awarded by the agency
  • Discretionary grants made by the agency
  • Expenditure on legal services
  • Expenditure on corporate cars
  • Expenditure on taxis
  • Expenditure on advertising
  • Expenditure on media monitoring
  • Expenditure on media subscriptions
  • Expenditure on staff travel
  • Measures taken to absorb the efficiency dividend
  • Staff numbers employed in ongoing, non-ongoing and contract positions, and at SES level
  • Expenditure on entitlements of current and former parliamentarians.
I'd add also all payments made and costs incurred by minsters and ministerial staff.

As the Commmisioner concludes
Some of the items in that list may go beyond the scope of this Review. Some other items are currently published by at least some agencies, for example, in annual reports. However, it would enhance public accessibility and accountability of government spending if a common practice was adopted in all agencies. The IPS provides an excellent framework for developing that common practice; and the Review is well-placed to facilitate or support this development. 

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