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17 November 2011
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Overseas parliamentary news

October 2011

A summary of news from overseas parliaments.


Requirement for mandatory printing statement removed

In 2009 the government introduced a requirement that material, other than personalised letterhead stationery and greetings cards, produced under a member's printing and communications entitlement must contain a prescribed statement that it had been produced by the member at government expense or using the member's entitlement. The government has now removed this requirement, saying that it had caused an unwarrantable administrative burden on parliamentarians across the spectrum.

Regulations: Parliamentary Entitlements Amendment Regulations 2009 (No. 2), 14 Dec. 2009; Parliamentary Entitlements Amendment Regulations 2011 (No. 2), 2 June 2011

Media article: MP grab for pay, no say, The Sunday Mail, 8 Oct. 2011

Ombudsman provided questions for committee hearing

When the Ombudsman was not called to appear before a committee at the May budget estimate hearings, he approached a Greens senator about concerns he wished to raise and provided possible questions for her to ask him. The Greens then called him as a witness to answer those questions. The Ombudsman is not an Officer of Parliament, and the Ombudsman said that although he is accountable to Parliament he has only infrequent and limited opportunities to engage with it. He accepted that his actions had caused many to question the impartiality of the office, and submitted his resignation to the Governor-General.

Press releases: Response to commentary about Ombudsman actions – May 2011 Budget Estimates, 13 Oct. 2011; Ombudsman resigns, 20 Oct. 2011

Media articles: Ombudsman scripted Senator's questions, ABC News, 13 Oct. 2011; Federal watchdog forced to resign, The Age, 20 Oct. 2011

Additional resettlement allowance for longer service

Members elected to Parliament since 2004 who retire from Parliament involuntarily, usually through defeat at a general election, are entitled to a resettlement allowance if they inform the Clerk of the relevant House in writing that they intend to seek employment after leaving Parliament. In addition to the basic allowance of three months of the base parliamentary salary, the Remuneration Tribunal has introduced an additional allowance of a further three months of the base parliamentary salary for parliamentarians who have served more than one term in Parliament.

Determination: Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2011/20: Members of Parliament – Entitlements, 15 Sept. 2011

Statement: Remuneration Tribunal, Members of Parliament charter and resettlement allowances: reasons for determination, 17 Oct. 2011

Media article: Revealed – the generous golden handshakes for our MPs, The Daily Telegraph, 18 Oct. 2011

New security cameras vulnerable

Issues associated with the new digital security camera system introduced last year are still being resolved. The previous system was on its own secure network, which made it less vulnerable to hacking, but for technical reasons the new system cannot be placed on that network until it is upgraded. In the meantime there have been failures which the supplier, BAE, says were caused by external influences.

Hansard: Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, Estimates, 17 Oct. 2011


Revision of formula for the distribution of seats

A newly introduced bill would amend the constitutional formula used to allocate seats in the House of Commons in order to provide for a fairer representation of the population distribution among the provinces. Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, the fastest growing provinces, would receive more seats while the representation of Quebec and the slower growing provinces would be maintained. The overall number of seats in the House after the next readjustment would rise from 308 to 338, instead of to 315 as under the present formula. A similar bill introduced in the previous Parliament lapsed when Parliament was dissolved.

Bill: Fair Representation Act, 27 Oct. 2011

Press release: Fair Representation Act moves every province towards rep-by-pop, 27 Oct. 2011


Commitment to consultation on bills

To ensure good quality legislation, the new coalition government has made a commitment to allow a reasonable consultation period for a bill prior to its introduction into the Folketing, and to make the submissions and consultation results available in good time before the bill's first reading. It will also, in cooperation with the Folketing, organise public consultations involving experts and interest groups when complex legislation is being initiated. Last year a group of organisations wrote to the Folketing Presidium to complain about the unreasonably short deadlines the government was setting for consultation on new bills and to ask it to intervene.

Glossary: Glossary: Folketinget – Parliament

Agreement: Et Danmark der står sammen: regeringsgrundlag, 3 Oct 2011


Constitutional amendment allows citizens' initiatives

Following an amendment to the constitution, 50,000 or more voters may now present a non-binding initiative for the enactment, amendment or repeal of a law to Parliament for its consideration. The initiative may take the form of a bill or a more loosely worded proposal. The proposed procedures to be followed are set out in a bill now before Parliament. These include a six month period for the collection of signatures and the public identification of donors who give 1,500 euros or more in support of an initiative. Changes to standing orders would see citizens' initiative bills treated similarly to other bills. Citizens' initiative proposals would be dealt with on a case by case basis, depending on what was necessary to make them into a bill.

Bill: Regeringens proposition till Riksdagen med förslag till lag om medborgarinitiativ och till lag om ändring av 24 § i lagen om offentlighet i myndigheternas verksamhet, 5 Oct 2011

Reports:Talmanskonferensens förslag till riksdagens beslut om ändring av riksdagens arbetsordning, 11 Oct. 2011; Grundlagsutskottet, Vilande förslag till lag om ändring av Finlands grundlag, 12 Oct 2011

Press release: Riksdagen godkände revideringen av grundlagen, 21 Oct. 2011


Constitutional referendum on committee inquiry powers

A proposed amendment to the constitution concerning Oireachtas inquiries was defeated in a referendum. The amendment would have given the Oireachtas the power to conduct inquiries into matters of general importance, in the course of which a person's conduct might be investigated and findings made, with due regard to the principles of fair procedure.

Glossary: Oireachtas – Parliament

Press release: Statement on proposed amendments to the Constitution, 29 Oct. 2011

New South Wales

Vote against magistrate's dismissal

The Legislative Council voted not to present an address to the Governor seeking the removal of a magistrate from office on the grounds of incapacity. A report by the Conduct Division of the Judicial Commission had found the magistrate was incapacitated from performing his judicial duties and that the matter could justify parliamentary consideration of his removal from office. For the magistrate to be dismissed, both houses of Parliament needed to present the Governor with addresses seeking his removal. It was the second occasion this year on which the Legislative Council had voted not to remove a magistrate on the grounds of incapacity.

Media article: NSW MPs vote against magistrate's dismissal, ABC News, 14 Oct. 2011

Former office holders' entitlements to be reviewed

Former premiers, ministers and other office holders, including Speakers of the Legislative Assembly and Presidents of the Legislative Council, are entitled, at the discretion of the Premier, to benefits that may include access to chauffeur-driven cars, free travel and office space. The Premier has ordered a review of these entitlements, the first in 14 years. He also said that the cost of the entitlements would be published on a six monthly basis.

Press release: Former premiers' entitlements, 25 Oct 2011

Media article: O'Farrell threatens to take the axe to all premiers' perks, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Oct 2011


iPads offered to members

All members have been offered an Apple iPad 2, with an interface adapted for the Storting that allows them to access documents from wherever they are. It is envisaged that members will use the iPads to read documents and access email, while continuing to use their laptops to produce documents. The Storting made the decision to purchase the iPads after individual members had bought their own tablets, using them, among other things, to refer to their notes during debates.

Glossary: Stortinget – Parliament

Press release: Nettbrett på Stortinget, 12 Oct. 2011

Media article: iPad til alle folkevalgte, Aftenposten, 8 Oct. 2011


Members' pay increase capped at 2.5%

Members are entitled to an annual salary that is $500 less than that of a member of the Australian House of Representatives. The Premier announced that in line with the state government's wage policy, members would receive a 2.5% pay increase this year rather than the 3.1% increase received by federal MPs. Members' allowances have been increased by 3.8% in accordance with the Consumer Price Index for Brisbane.

Press release: Queensland MPs to receive a 2.5% salary increase in line with government's wage policy, 7 Oct 2011

Media article: Pay day just got better for politicians, The Courier-Mail, 7 Oct. 2011

Minute's silence to be observed for fallen soldiers

Following the death of any members of the Australian military on active overseas service, Parliament will move a motion on the next sitting day for the observance of a minute's silence. The standing orders will be amended to allow for this to occur.

Hansard: Legislative Assembly, marks of respect, Record of Proceedings, 11 Oct. 2011

Press release: Fallen soldiers to be honoured in Queensland Parliament, 11 Oct. 2011

Solomon Islands

Convicted member loses his seat

The seat of a member sentenced to a prison term of six months or more becomes vacant after 30 days unless the Speaker, at the member's request, extends that period to allow for an appeal against the conviction or sentence. The Speaker granted such a request from a member who was jailed for 33 months for unlawfully wounding and assaulting a police officer and later, on the basis of a ministerial remission of the member's sentence to less than six months, decided that he could continue to sit as a member. The High Court ruled that the Speaker was right to grant the original request, but that his later decision was wrong as the remission did not reduce the sentence. It declared the member's seat vacant.

Judgment: High Court of Solomon Islands, Wale v Speaker of Parliament [2011] SBHC 121, 17 Oct. 2011

Media article: High Court rules against Lusibaea, Solomon Times, 18 Oct. 2011


Reimbursement for rent for members' accommodation

Most members whose homes are outside Stockholm stay in the flats provided by the Riksdag when they are in Stockholm, but some choose to provide their own accommodation. There appears to have been some confusion as to whether members who rent accommodation on their own account and share it with someone else should be reimbursed for the full rent or only for their share. Several members who were reimbursed over a number of years for the full rent have now chosen to repay the amounts that exceeded their share of the rent. The guidelines for members who provide their own accommodation are to be reviewed.

Glossary: Riksdagen – Parliament

Media articles: Riksdagen ville ha besked i somras om Juholts hyra, Riksdag & Departement, 7 Oct. 2011; Sällsynta bostadsbidrag, Svenska Dagbladet, 10 Oct. 2011; M-politiker fick för mycket bidrag, Svenska Dagbladet, 18 Oct. 2011; Reglerna för ledamöternas lägenheter ska utredas, Riksdag & Departement, 21 Oct. 2011

Ministers ineligible to stay in Riksdag flats

A member who becomes a minister must vacate their seat in the Riksdag for the duration of their term of office. If they are from out of Stockholm, they must also vacate their Riksdag flat in favour of their substitute. A transitional period of unspecified length is allowed while they find alternative accommodation. It has emerged that two ministers are still in their Riksdag flats five years after they became ministers. Their continued occupancy has caused difficulties for their parties in accommodating all their members within their allocation of flats. At his party's request, one of the ministers is now moving out.

Media articles: Erlandsson tvingas flytta från riksdagslägenheten, Svenska Dagbladet, 17 Oct. 2011; Flera ministrar bor kvar i riksdagens lägenheter, Svenska Dagbladet, 17 Oct. 2011


Change in committee meeting payments

Members are now being paid a meeting fee of 50 pa'anga (NZ$37) when they attend a standing committee meeting, the Finance and Inland Revenue Minister said in Parliament. Previously they were paid overtime at a rate of 96 pa'anga (NZ$70) for the first two hours, and a further 96 pa'anga for every hour following.

Press release: MPs do not get paid overtime, 14 Oct. 2011

Website upgrade

Parliament's website will be upgraded with the purchase of a high capacity server and related equipment by the British High Commission in liaison with the United Nations Development Programme. The website is intended to keep the large number of Tongans living abroad well informed about parliamentary proceedings.

Press release: British High Commission continues support for the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, 14 Oct. 2011

Free overseas medical treatment for members approved

Parliament approved a regulation allowing a member who needs specialised medical treatment overseas to receive free medical treatment, two return business class airline tickets, and daily, transport and rent allowances for the first 14 days. The Speaker may grant an extension of the allowances on receipt of a letter from an overseas doctor. All payments are in addition to the member's basic salary.

Media article: Tongan MPs help themselves to lavish medical leave, Pacific Islands Report, 20 Oct. 2011

United Kingdom

Use of electronic devices in the House of Commons

The House of Commons resolved to allow the use of hand-held devices, but not laptops, in the Chamber provided they are silent and used in a way that does not impair decorum. Members making speeches in the Chamber or in committee may refer to electronic devices instead of paper speaking notes. Electronic devices, including laptops, may be used silently in committee meetings.

Press release: MPs approve use of hand-held electronic devices during debates, 13 Oct 2011

Security for committee witnesses reviewed

Recommendations from the independent review of the incident in which a foam pie was thrown at Rupert Murdoch in a committee hearing include a robust review and formal approval of risk assessments for high risk events, and a review of security arrangements in committee rooms for such events. The Speaker said that he would begin discussions, including with the Lord Speaker, on whether the recommendation for the establishment of a post of Director of Security merited further attention.

Hansard: Speaker's statement, House of Commons Official Report, Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) 17 Oct 2011

Report: List of recommendations in the independent review of the incident at the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 19 July 2011, together with progress report on implementation as at 17 October 2011

Survey of public perceptions of MPs' pay

After taking over responsibility for MPs' pay and pensions earlier this year, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is working towards a long-term solution to the issue. As a first step it commissioned a survey into public perceptions of MPs' pay and of jobs which could be considered comparable. A third of respondents suggested linking MPs' pay to senior public sector jobs while a fifth thought it should be linked to mid-level public sector jobs.

Press releases: IPSA given responsibility for MP pay and pensions, 17 Oct. 2011; Survey on MPs' pay and pensions, 20 Oct 2011

Elections for key House of Commons posts reviewed

A review of the 2010 elections for Speaker, Deputy Speakers, major select committee chairs and the Backbench Business Committee concluded that the move to hold elections for key House of Commons posts was right in principle and had worked well in practice. It recommended that a place on the Backbench Business Committee should be reserved for minor parties. The idea of creating a special Speaker's seat, instead of the Speaker standing for re-election in an ordinary constituency unopposed by the major parties, was not supported.

Report: House of Commons Procedure Committee, 2010 elections for positions in the House, HC 1573, 31 Oct. 2011

Press release: Procedure Committee publishes report on 2010 elections for positions in the House, 31 Oct. 2011


Financial and constitutional arrangements review announced

Wales' present financial and constitutional arrangements are to be reviewed by the Commission on Devolution in Wales. Its report on the case for the devolution of fiscal powers to the National Assembly is due in 2012. It will then review the Assembly's powers and in 2013 make recommendations for modifications to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable better service for the people of Wales.

Press release: Commission on Devolution in Wales takes shape, 11 Oct 2011

Media article: Welsh Secretary names commission to study the devolution of new fiscal powers to the Assembly, Western Mail, 12 Oct. 2011

Trial of members' issues debates

In a new procedure, members may now table motions to be debated and voted on. The motions may be tabled by one or more members, and must be supported by members from at least three different political parties. It is up to the Business Committee to select the motions for debate. The aim of the new procedure is to make the Assembly's business more open to issues of importance to members and communities across Wales.

Press release: Smacking ban is first topic on the agenda as new system of member-led debates is trialled, 17 Oct 2011

Western Australia

Review of Legislative Council standing orders

New Standing Orders for the Legislative Council have been recommended for adoption. This is the first major review of the Council's Standing Orders to have been conducted since 1952.

Report: Legislative Council Standing Committee on Procedure and Privileges Subcommittee, Review of the Standing Orders, 20 Oct. 2011$file/pp.all.111020.rpf.022.xx.a.pdf.pdf

Pleasance Purser

Research Analyst

Parliamentary Library

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