A summary of news from overseas parliaments.
Speaker's procession taking public route
On Tuesdays the Speaker’s procession, instead of taking place in private areas of the building inaccessible to visitors, will now take a route that can be viewed from public areas. The intention is to give visitors more access to parliamentary ceremonies.
Hansard: Speaker's procession, Votes and proceedings: Hansard, House of Representatives, 8 Feb. 2012
Media article: New procession ushers in Slipper era, ABC News, 14 Feb. 2012 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-14/new-procession-ushers-in-slipper-era/3828928
Former members’ travel entitlement scheme ceased
In accordance with the Remuneration Tribunal’s recommendation, Parliament passed an act to close the Life Gold Pass travel entitlement scheme to MPs and senators who enter or re-enter Parliament after the act comes into force. Existing pass holders will have their current entitlement of 25 free domestic return trips per year reduced to ten. Those spouses and partners of sitting members who are currently entitled to 25 return trips to Canberra each year, will also have that number reduced to ten.
Bill: Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, 9 Feb. 2012 http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2012B00005
Explanatory note: Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012: explanatory memorandum, 9 Feb. 2012 http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2012B00005/Explanatory%20Memorandum/Text
Press release: Parliament passes Remuneration Tribunal proposals, 28 Feb. 2012 http://www.smos.gov.au/media/2012/mr_142012.html
New secure parliamentary website launched
The new parliamentary website was launched, a year after the date originally intended. Part of the delay was due to the major external security breach of Parliament’s IT system that occurred in December 2010. There have been three rounds of security analysis to ensure that the new site will not be hacked.
Hansard: Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, Estimates, 13 Feb. 2012 http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/estimate/b9191fcf-3ad3-4840-a462-81700f86d3cb/toc_pdf/Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee_2012_02_13_783.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22committees/estimate/b9191fcf-3ad3-4840-a462-81700f86d3cb/0000%22
Media article: ‘Balls-up’: $3.1m Parliament House website a year late, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Feb. 2012 http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/government-it/ballsup-31m-parliament-house-website-a-year-late-20120214-1t374.html
Babies in the chamber
A question of privilege was raised, seeking clarification as to whether or not there was a rule on bringing babies into the chamber. This followed an incident in which a member brought her baby with her into the chamber and other members started taking photos of him, causing a disturbance. The Speaker said he did not see it as a matter of privilege. He thought that in most cases members would be able to make alternative arrangements, but in the event of these failing, then if there was no disruption or disturbance the Speaker’s attention would be unlikely to be drawn to the situation and the work of the House could proceed as usual.
Hansard: Privilege, Status of women in Parliament, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 8 Feb. 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=5368586#SOB-6538191; Privilege, Status of women in Parliament – Speaker's ruling, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 16 Feb. 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=5393819#SOB-6631394
Media article: Baby in the House sets off procedural debate, Ottawa Citizen, 9 Feb. 2012 http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/Baby+House+sets+procedural+debate/6123752/story.html
Greater transparency for deputies and public relations firms
In the interests of transparency, seminars held by public relations firms at the National Assembly under a deputy’s sponsorship will now be listed on the Assembly’s website, together with their mode of financing and their participants. Deputies must also from now on include membership of any parliamentary clubs in their declarations of interests. These clubs bring together a cross section of parliamentarians, sector representatives and scientists interested in a particular issue. They are organised by public relations firms or major companies.
Report: Rapport du Déontologue au Bureau de l'Assemblée nationale déposé en application de l'article 3 de la décision du Bureau du 6 avril 2011 relative au respect du code de déontologie des députés, 22 Feb. 2012 http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/qui/rapport_deontologue_2012.pdf
Press release: Déontologie – Décisions du Bureau du 22 février 2012 http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/presidence/presse/communiques/20120222-109.asp
Papua New Guinea
First woman Leader of the Opposition
Dame Carol Kidu, currently the only female member of Parliament, is the first woman to be recognised as Leader of the Opposition. Dame Carol, who dissociated herself from Sir Michael Somare’s faction following the attempted military intervention in January, found herself the only member of the opposition when MPs belonging to Sir Michael’s faction ceased attending Parliament. She wants to strengthen the functioning of the opposition, restoring credibility and confidence in the office of Leader and bringing back debate on the floor of the House. She has appealed to MPs on the middle bench to join her.
Media articles: Speaker considers Kidu’s request, The National, 3 Feb. 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/28649; Dame Carol is new opposition leader, The National, 16 Feb. 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/29152
Reserved seats for women bill defeated
A bill to implement last year’s amendment to the constitution, which enabled the creation of 22 reserved seats for women, failed to gain the two thirds majority necessary for it to become law. 58 MPs voted in favour of the bill, 15 short of the 73 votes required. Only one member voted against the bill, but 21 MPs left the chamber just before the vote was taken. Consequently there will be no seats reserved for women in this year’s election.
Media articles: Reserved seats for women bill in PNG shelved, Islands Business, 23 Feb. 2012; Kidu disappointed at PNG failure to vote for women’s seats, Radio New Zealand, 23 Feb. 2012 http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=66392
Demand for withdrawal of campaign ad using parliamentary footage
The Speaker wrote to the Queensland Liberal National Party demanding the withdrawal of a campaign advertisement using footage from the television broadcast of Parliament’s proceedings. The use of parliamentary broadcasts for political party advertising or election campaigning is forbidden. Contravention of this ban is a contempt of Parliament. The Party’s director said the demand was irrelevant as the party did not plan to use the advertisement any longer.
Media article: Speaker bans LNP campaign ad, The Courier-Mail, 29 Feb. 2012 http://www.couriermail.com.au/ipad/speaker-bans-lnp-campaign-ad/story-fn6ck45n-1226284488660
Motion to dismiss Auditor General referred to select committee
After several days of deliberation in an emergency session, Parliament agreed to establish a select committee to consider a motion, tabled by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, to dismiss the Auditor General for misconduct. The Auditor General is appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Speaker and may be removed from office by Parliament by a two thirds majority vote. Initially there had been disagreement over whether the motion should be considered by the House, which would have meant that the Auditor General could not defend himself, or by a committee. The committee’s membership and terms of reference were also the subject of debate.
Press releases: Motion to dismiss Auditor General, 2 Feb. 2012 http://www.parliament.gov.to/index.php/events-schedule/category-list/374-motion-to-dismiss-auditor-general; Parliamentary select committee appointed to handle government’s motion, 7 Feb. 2012 http://www.parliament.gov.to/index.php/events-schedule/category-list/377-parliamentary-select-committee-appointed-to-handle-governments-motion
Media article: Tongan Parliament stumbles over removal of Auditor, Pacific Islands Report, 3 Feb. 2012 http://pidp.eastwestcenter.org/pireport/2012/February/02-06-09.htm
Annual review of MPs’ expenses scheme
Like other respondents to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s annual review of the MPs’ expenses scheme, a House of Commons committee commented on the difficulty of drawing a clear distinction between parliamentary and political, since political parties are at the heart of Britain’s parliamentary system. The committee welcomed IPSA’s implicit recognition of the general principle that each MP has to choose how best to serve their constituency, whether through casework, wider campaigns or concentrating on the business of the House, but it also reminded IPSA that its task is not to determine MPs’ job descriptions.
Report: House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, Response to IPSA annual review of the MPs’ scheme of expenses and costs, 1 Feb. 2012 http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/standards-and-privileges/20120125%20Repsonse%20to%20IPSA%20Review%20of%20Expenses%20scheme%20sent%20to%20Andrew%20McDonald%20website%20version.pdf
MPs’ pension contributions to be raised
Former members aged 65 or over receive a pension based on their length of service and final salary. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is planning a thorough review of MPs’ pay and pensions by the end of 2013, but in the meantime it is proposing to increase MPs’ pension contributions, in response to a House of Commons motion inviting it to raise them in line with the changes to other public service schemes. The scheme is a relatively high-benefit one, with high contribution rates, and for MPs who may find the increased rates unaffordable, IPSA is also proposing to offer them the flexibility to opt to accrue benefits at a lower tier for future service.
Report: Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, MPs’ pensions: consultation, Jan. 2012 http://www.parliamentarystandards.org.uk/transparency/Current%20Consultaions/February%202012%20-%20Pensions%20Consultation%20Document.pdf
Press releases: IPSA consults on MPs’ pensions, 8 Feb. 2012 http://www.parliamentarystandards.org.uk/NewsAndMedia/Pages/LatestNews2.aspx?ListNews=739f9c00-b7d4-4282-bffd-9ae51fd8d92d&NewsId=29; Response to IPSA announcement, 8 Feb. 2012 http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/response-to-ipsa-announcement/
Scottish Parliament’s power to legislate for independence referendum
The House of Lords Constitution Committee agreed with the United Kingdom government’s view that, as the law stands, the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on independence. It welcomed the government’s proposal to pass legislation conferring on the Scottish Parliament clear competence to legislate for such a referendum.
Report: House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, Referendum on Scottish independence, HL Paper 263, 17 Feb. 2012 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201012/ldselect/ldconst/263/263.pdf
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