Independence of Parliament Threatened

by Desk Editor on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 — 2:35 PM

A bill changing the setting of MPs’ salaries could reduce the independence of Parliament and affect the quality of their work.

Giving evidence to the Government Administration Committee, Clerk of the House Mary Harris said while she accepted the aim of providing better support for members and maintaining public confidence in democracy, the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill went too far.

“What concerns me a little bit about the bill is that its goes on to place requirements on members in the way in which they preform their roles

“I think members have got to be free to perform their roles as they see fit and as determined by the House’s own rules – and legislating for such matters runs the risk of bringing the way in which members act under the jurisdiction of the courts and being quite contrary to Parliament’s privileges.”

Mary Harris said the bill required members to be effective and efficient, but, she said, maintaining Parliament’s efficiency was the role of her office, as well as the Parliamentary Service and Ministerial Services.

And while the bill seeks to clarify rules around members’ entitlements, it could have the opposite effect, further muddying the waters by introducing a dual regime for determining MP’s allowances.

The bill proposes to split the determination between the Speaker and the Remuneration Authority, so that travel and accommodation allowances are delegated to the Remuneration Authority and communication and member and party support services would be determined by the Speaker – something Mary Harris took issue with.

“I think that is a very arbitrary split and I don’t believe that it will achieve the desired level of transparency.”

Mary Harris questioned the wisdom of placing more responsibility on the Remuneration Authority, “which, as it stands, has no working resources to deal with ongoing work or entitlement setting, no expertise in entitlement or travel and accommodation services. Its expertise is in setting senior level salaries.

“I think it poses risks for the functioning of the House and committees. It no longer reflects the principle that the House retain exclusive control of it’s operations”

Mary Harris said the regime would also lead to a doubling up between the Remuneration Authority and work already done by the Parliamentary Service, Ministerial Services and the Clerk’s Office.

The Clerk suggested a better way forward.

“When you strip away the media hype of it all, what is needed is a clear, independent decision maker for any benefit to a member that is of remunerative nature or where there is some sort of private benefit in the service”

Concern was also raised about the move from an entitlement to claims based system, where MPs would have to claim for money spent on travel, accommodation and other services.

The Clerk said members would be reluctant to make claims and therefore the way their roles are carried out would suffer.

Mary Harris said the committee needed to “go back to square one” and think about what needed to be solved, and offered staff and resources to assist the committee to “think more deeply” about the bill.

  • The bill also reduces the time for MPs’ absences incurring a penalty from 14 to 9 sitting days and increases the penalty from $10/day to 0.2% of salary (more than $200/day) – though, the Clerk said this was a matter for the House, not legislation. The Standing Orders Committee has agreed that a record of attendance should be reinstated .
  • Audio from this and other select committees: PLAY HERE

Article by Reesh Lyon

Previous post:

Next post: