Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Show MPs' allowances, review says

MEMBERS of the NSW Parliament could be compelled to reveal details of how they spend their allowances and other information now kept secret, as part of the Ombudsman's review of the Freedom of Information Act.

In a discussion paper to be made public this morning, the NSW Ombudsman has raised the idea that the NSW act reflect the British act, which includes the House of Commons and the House of Lords as public authorities. At present all parliaments in Australia are exempt from FoI laws although parliaments in India, South Africa and Ireland are included.

The issue, one of 139 raised in the paper, is certain to be controversial after journalists and freedom-of-information activists in Britain recently won a High Court battle forcing its parliament to disclose vast numbers of receipts detailing how politicians spent their allowances.

The documents prompted widespread criticism after revealing numerous instances where politicians used allowances to furnish and renovate private homes or to pay for life insurance policies for spouses, information the court found was in the public interest.

The Ombudsman's discussion paper is the first stage of a review of the act, which the Ombudsman branded "complex, confusing and often frustrating".

The Ombudsman's paper says that for nearly 15 years the government has ignored his calls to "institute an independent and wide-ranging review" and that he's been forced to act alone.

Non-government bodies might also lose their exempt status as part of the review.

Public submissions will be accepted until the end of October.

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