End the Cosy Silence

Tracy Watkins finally says what many in the public have thought for a long, long time.

Surely the remaining fig leaf surrounding MPs’ protestations over their use of public money has been blown away by now?

For years they have argued against applying the Official Information Act to the tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding that they divvy up between each other annually.

They base their argument on the flimsy pretext that there are enough checks and balances in place to ensure it is not misspent. There must be much hearty knee-slapping about that one within the Parliamentary Service Commission ? otherwise known as a cosy club for MPs who meet regularly to consider the rules governing themselves.

The latest scandal surrounding the use of ministerial credit card spending reveals the extent to which those sorts of checks and balances can be corrupted by the power imbalance between MPs and the officials charged with policing them. MPs spend, officials invariably pull out the rubber stamp ? though, to their credit, not without numerous entreaties to play by the rules along the way.

Of course the cosy silence still prevails over parliamentary services which remains outside the reach of the OIA.

Which brings us to the really scary thing. The checks and balances that apply to ministerial spending are actually quite robust compared with those that apply to spending under the cloak of the Parliamentary Service ? the body which administers MPs’ travel and accommodation expenses and doles out largesse in the form of about $41 million in state funding to political parties each year.

There we have only the word of our MPs that any checks exist at all. Because unlike Ministerial Services, MPs have consistently refused to expose Parliamentary Service records to the Official Information Act. It remains one of the rare exceptions to the provisions of the act, a privilege MPs voted themselves some decades ago and which they have been unflinching in their support of since.

Are we really going to believe the word of a veteran trougher like Tugger Jones, Jim Il Sung Anderton or any other trough snuffler. Like hell. They have been measured and found wanting. Time to apply the OIA to parliamentary services. The disinfectant of sunlight washes away the stench of troughing, corruption and rorting.