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Friday, October 25, 2013

Blackout over payments to state politicians

Lack of transparency is a feature of all the state and territory arrangements for payment and use of entitlements as recounted here often over the years. 

In the wake of media interest in our Federal pollies, Sean Nicholls for The Sydney Morning Herald and Rosemary Bolger for the Launceston Examiner both tried to take a look at the state counterparts and ran into a brick wall when asking for information in NSW and Tasmania. I think those who try it elsewhere will also come up empty handed other than dated global figures, if anywhere tucked away in annual reports.

One of the contributing factors is that the parliaments/parliamentary departments are not covered by the relevant state or territory freedom of information legislation. Of course, better than this, all the relevant information should be published on line on a single web site, in close to real time, and fully searchable, but FOI coverage would be one small step in the right direction. 

That this isn't the case is a scandalous gap in the transparency and accountability systems.

I had been working on the basis that FOI coverage of the Parliament was the situation in Tasmania. Not, as noted in 2009, that anyone has shouted this from the rooftops or that it is obvious from a glance at the Right to Information Act.

My analysis then and now is that the Tasmanian Parliament as a public authority is subject to the Right to Information Act with respect to information in its possession that relates to matters of administration. This would seem to extend to payments to and acquittals by members, and other use of public funds managed by the offices of the clerks.

But Rosemary Bolger writes
Entitlements are signed off by the clerks of the upper or lower houses and remain forever hidden, protected by an exemption from Right to Information. Why the secrecy? I suspect it's more laziness than a deliberate attempt to bury the figures. 
When I contacted her she said this is what she was told eventually when someone at Parliament House answered her question. I suggested she should take it further.  

The media in other states and territories should be making a fuss about the opaque system that operates and demanding better. 

The citizenry should join in and start with their local member.

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