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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Parliamentarians entitlements-following the money ain't easy

The entitlements saga rolls on as more eyes take a look at published information on the Department of Finance website. 

Leaving aside the nature of the claims, here is why the system is a far cry from the simple and transparent model needed:

Publication on line of details of entitlement payments by the Department of Finance commencing in 2008. Reporting categories were expanded in 2009. Here is the latest-for the period July-December 2012. Searching across members and senators and over different six month periods is complex, putting it mildly; publication of payments in any event is nowhere near real time. The Belcher Committee noted that publication is voluntary and recommended it be enshrined in legislation.

Use of entitlements paid by Finance before 2008: Not published. Make a Freedom of Information application. Probably wait at least 30 days. With regard to some information, the member or senator may argue that it is personal and should not be disclosed as Prime Minister Gillard did in 2012-13 concerning a repayment made in 2007. Be prepared to appeal the decision. It could be a slow process.

Payments to, or support provided to senators and members by the Parliamentary departments such as salaries and electorate allowances, additional salaries and support provided to parliamentary office holders, superannuation entitlements, resettlement allowance payments, and services and facilities to support parliamentarians in Parliament House including the cost of office accommodation, computing and other equipment, telephones, newspapers and stationery: Not published. Can't be accessed under FOI because parliament exempted itself from the act in June this year.

Gifts and interests: Published by the House as a series of notifications by the member of changes but no up to date list of current interests and the register has no search function. The Senate register may be different-but none of the links to pages for individual senators opened for me.

Payments to or on behalf of ministers, assistant ministers and parliamentary secretaries by their departments, or the cost of support provided such as the cost of official cars for the Minister and spouse; departmental liaison staff; additional stationery, office requisites, furniture and equipment in Ministers’ and Parliamentary Secretaries’ Parliament House Offices and their home State offices; official hospitality; and a range of other services: Not published. Make an FOI application. Follow the same path as for Finance pre 2008.

The current fuss shows the rules need to be sorted. And that we need fully transparent timely disclosure and a comprehensive single site searchable system to follow the money.

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