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Old parties weaken FOI, protect MPs expenses

Media Release
Lee Rhiannon 19 Jun 2013

Labor and Coalition MPs united in the Senate late last night to increase secrecy around MPs expenses and the workings of parliament by rejecting Greens' amendments and voting in favour of a bill to exempt parliament from the scrutiny of freedom of information (FOI).

The Parliamentary Service Amendment (FOI) Bill will shield the Senate, House of Representatives and Parliamentary Services Department from the FOI Act completely and retrospectively.

"Exempting MPs and parliament from FOI laws is a cynical and self-serving move by the old parties to block transparency", said Greens democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon.

"Labor and Liberal MPs barely even contributed to the Senate debate last night.

"Prime Minister Gillard promised greater transparency when she formed government in 2010 but now Australia's FOI laws are a poor cousin of those in many countries, including Britain, India, South Africa and Mexico.

"The old parties rejected a Greens amendment to define what information is subject to FOI, including salaries for MPs, electorate allowances, superannuation and services and facilities to support parliamentarians.

"Very minimal Greens amendments to limit FOI requests to administrative documents only and to require MPs to proactively link to the expenditure reports were also beyond the pale for the old parties.

"This bill jumps the gun on the government's own Hawke Review, the major review of FOI laws which was tasked to look at this issue and is due to be released soon.

"Excluding parliamentary departments has long been criticised in Australia. The Australian Law Reform Commission in 1996 recommended their inclusion and during this review the then Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans argued that the FOI Act should be extended to parliamentary departments.

"This bill will retrospectively wind-back a ruling from the Information commissioner in May 2012 that the Senate, House of Representatives and Parliamentary Services were covered by FOI.

"These departments spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers' money a year which should be open to public scrutiny, helping to maintain public confidence and avoid corruption.

"Only the Greens can be trusted in parliament to stand up for open government", said Senator Rhiannon. 


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