“Be Honest Minister” A proposal to reform Parliamentary accountability

The following assumptions underlie the preparation of this document:

  • Democracy is fundamental to the Australian way of life. We enjoy its benefits and wish to keep it.
  • It is the responsibility of all Australians, and most particularly our  Parliamentary representatives, to act in a way which protects and enhances our democracy.
  • Accountable government, where the rule of law, reason and procedural fairness flourishes, strengthens democracy.
  • The power and exercise of Executive government at State, Territory and Federal levels has developed to a point where direct accountability to Parliament and to the broader public interest is significantly reduced, and reducing.
  • A renewed commitment to accountability by governments and prospective governments will be beneficial to:
    – our democracy generally: the broad public interest,
    – effective parliamentary representation
    – each government or prospective government itself,
    – other nations for which we seek to be a positive model.
  • Australian governments operate in a context that is increasingly globalised and complex. This changed context requires review, reform and systemic change across the public sector.
  • Governments hold office only through the democratic electoral process and the powers that governments exercise are delegated democratic authority. The accountability of the Executive Government is the natural corollary of that delegated authority.
  • This paper proposes a range of reforms and revisions affecting the accountability of ministers and governments to Parliament and the citizens.
  • We propose action to:
    •   Legislate/ codify Ministerial Responsibility
    •   Legislate/ codify the exercise of Cabinet confidentiality
    •   Establish Ombudsman’s role in mediating FOI disputes and make claims of exemption reviewable
    •   Regulate lobbying of the Government
    •   Establish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner
    •   Establish independent Parliamentary Presiding Officers
    •   Update and renew the Prime Minister’s Guide to Ministerial Responsibility (Howard Government Dec 98)

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Be Honest Minister