ART has written to the leaders of the three major parties contesting the Victorian State Election on November 29th, seeking their views on the redressing of three serious deficiencies in Victoria’s democratic governance arrangements if re-elected in the forthcoming State Election. They are:
First, the State does not have an effective anti-corruption body. The IBAC legislation should be amended to give IBAC the same ability as NSW’s ICAC to investigate corruption and to deal with the uncertainties and problems created in the handling of “protected disclosures” identified by the IBAC Commissioner and the Ombudsman.
Second, the State lacks appropriate mechanisms for ensuring that funding of political parties does not lead to anti-democratic, if not corrupt, outcomes. An Inquiry into the political funding in Victoria of parties, members of Parliament and candidates should be referred to the Joint Electoral Matters Committee.
Third, the State’s freedom of information legislation falls well short of best practice. The Queensland Solomon Report should be adopted by enacting the Right to Information legislation in place in Queensland and Tasmania.
The 2010 -2014 Victorian parliamentary term began with the prospect that Victoria would finally see in place an overarching independent anti-corruption body modelled on New South Wales’s successful ICAC and, based on statements by the parties prior to the last election, there would be some strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act system.
While subsequently the Office of the Information Commissioner was established, it is necessary, in this election, to again seek a real commitment to open and accountable government and, in particular, commitments in those two areas and in the related area of the regulation of political funding.
The regrettable reality is that, notwithstanding the few steps that have been taken since 2006, our governments have maintained secrecy particularly in relation to major planning and construction projects and PPPs.
As a result, community confidence in our system of government continues to be damaged, Parliament and the people are unable to hold government to account, and the risk of corruption is significantly increased.
Since 2010 two additional policy concerns have been identified. First, the approach by governments to these issues involves a continuing and fundamental breach of a long standing, but forgotten, common law and ethical principle that
- public office is a public trust, and
- that holders of public office must, in exercising the powers entrusted to them, give priority to the public interest over their personal interests.
Secondly it is now appreciated around the world that open and accountable government is also critical for economic growth. This realisation has led to the formation of an international body, the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Since its creation in 2011 by governments including the UK, USA, and Indonesia, some 64 nations have joined, or applied to join (including in the latter group, Australia).
We should all be conscious of the conflicts of loyalties our elected representatives unavoidably bring to their job. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr. Cameron, spoke of the challenges faced when addressing an OGP summit in late 2013.
“…none of what I’ve outlined today is easy for us politicians. Transparency brings risks – indeed we often find that out here on a day‑to‑day basis – but it is absolutely critical.”
These and other matters, including the legality of fees for access, are discussed in more detail in this discussion document, which consists of three arguments.