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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

NSW Parliament still in pre-internet transparency world

Kate McClymont in Saturday's Fairfax Media
"For years before he left New South Wales Parliament in mid-2011, Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid entered ''not applicable'' in the section of his pecuniary interest declaration asking whether he had received income from a trust. But the accuracy of those declarations are being queried following sensational revelations in a corruption inquiry this week about the millions of dollars that have flowed through six Obeid family trusts, including millions that came to the Obeid family as proceeds from an allegedly corrupt government tender.
If anyone had been looking during those years the "N/A" entries might have been noted then as passing strange. But few would seem to have bothered to trundle down to Macquarie Street on a weekday between 10 and 4 to inspect the register available for public inspection only at those times.(Fact sheet 07 - The register of pecuniary interests - Parliament of NSW pdf)

Publication on-line is a 21st century boost to transparency and accountability that is yet to fully register there.  

There was no mention of it just recently when access to the register was discussed in the NSW Parliament. 

I'm not aware there has ever been a response to this recommendation 10 years ago by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption:
"That the register of pecuniary interests be established as an electronic database that can be accessed via the internet by Members of parliament and members of the public."

Access to the register online would be convenient for the public, save staff time dealing with anyone who did bother to ask to see the register, heighten the chances that disclosures would be more accurate and kept up to date, and bring to public attention sometime sooner than years later, obvious gaps or failures to disclose. (Mr Obeid was always said to be among the richest members throughout his time in parliament.)

In a welcome development, the Federal parliament these days publishes the Senate Register and House of Representatives Register online. 

As parliaments do elsewhere in various forms, for example

The NSW registers aren't the only important documents that sit in musty folders in Parliament House waiting for someone to take a look that should be online. In all our state parliaments, so too do documents relating to payment of entitlements, and other details of support for parliamentarians provided at taxpayers expense.

 Let's get with it, folks. 

"New-fangled ideas" about use of the internet for transparency and accountability purposes are here to stay.

(As Sean Nicholls reports today, Labor opposition leader John Robertson didn't get far in proposing to his colleagues that second jobs for parliamentarians should be banned and interest disclosures should extend to spouse interests as well. Really.)

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