A summary of news from overseas parliaments.
Review of Lobbying Code of Conduct
A Senate committee review of the Lobbying Code of Conduct concluded that the Code, which covers third party lobbying of government representatives, is effective in its current form. The committee was opposed to expanding the Code’s coverage to the lobbying of members of Parliament other than ministers. It noted that this would mean each House of Parliament would be regulating the communications between their members and other persons, and members would be prohibited from dealing with unregistered lobbyists.
Report: Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee, The operation of the Lobbying Code of Conduct and the Lobbyist Register, 1 March 2012
Parliamentary commission for investigation of judicial misbehaviour
Judges may only be removed from office by the Governor-General in Council, on an address from both Houses of Parliament in the same session, on the grounds of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. To assist Parliament in its consideration of such an address, a new bill would allow for the establishment of a joint parliamentary commission, by resolution of each House, to investigate allegations of a judge’s misbehaviour or incapacity. The commission would not determine whether facts were proved, nor make recommendations, but would report on whether conduct could be capable of being regarded by Parliament as proved misbehaviour or incapacity.
Bill: Judicial Misbehaviour and Incapacity (Parliamentary Commissions) Bill 2012, 14 March 2012 http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/legislation/bills/r4768_first-reps/toc_pdf/11260b01.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf
Explanatory note: Judicial Misbehaviour and Incapacity (Parliamentary Commissions) Bill 2012: explanatory memorandum, 14 March 2012 http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/legislation/ems/r4768_ems_03157d02-7cde-4e41-8ea4-ac66f7a5ec11/upload_pdf/366258.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf
Press release: Commonwealth first formal process for handling complaints against judges, 14 March 2012 http://www.attorneygeneral.gov.au/Media-releases/Pages/2012/First%20Quarter/14-March-2012---Commonwealth-first-formal-process-for-handling-complaints-against-judges.aspx
Changes to members’ salaries and entitlements
The new base salary of members of Parliament has been determined at $185,000. The amount is based on an assessment commissioned by the Remuneration Tribunal of the role and work of backbenchers. In other determinations, the Tribunal ended members’ entitlement to overseas study travel and introduced additional salary for shadow ministers and the Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives.
Determinations: Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2012/02 – Members of Parliament – base salary and related matters, 12 March 2012 http://www.remtribunal.gov.au/determinationsReports/byYear/2012/2012-02%20Determination.pdf Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2012/03 – Parliamentary additional salary and related matters, 12 March 2012 http://www.remtribunal.gov.au/determinationsReports/byYear/2012/2012-03%20Determination.pdf; Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2012/04 – Members of Parliament – entitlements, 12 March 2012 http://www.remtribunal.gov.au/determinationsReports/byYear/2012/2012-04%20Determination.pdf
Press release: Remuneration Tribunal formalises MPs' pay, 15 March 2012 http://www.smos.gov.au/media/2012/mr_222012.html
Judicial review of senator’s participation in privilege inquiry
Lawyers argued that a member of the Senate’s Committee of Privileges must recuse himself, or be removed from the Committee by the Senate, on the grounds that he had prejudged the matter before the Committee. Otherwise his presence on the Committee would be reviewable by the High Court. The Committee responded that it was well established that a senator’s participation in an inquiry in which they might have a real or apparent conflict of interest was a matter for the senator concerned. It would be untenable for the High Court to reach into the proceedings of the Senate in such a way. As it happened, the senator in question had decided to stand aside.
Report: Senate Committee of Privileges, Whether there was any improper influence in relation to political donations made by Mr Graeme Wood and questions without notice asked by Senator Bob Brown and Senator Milne, 19 March 2012 http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=priv_ctte/report_150/index.htm
Better parliamentary financial oversight
As part of a review of the Commonwealth financial framework, suggestions have been made for assisting Parliament to gain a clear understanding of where and how resources are spent, and the effectiveness of the expenditure. These include simplifying appropriations bills, more closely aligning entities’ external and internal reporting and more standardisation of appropriations bills, portfolio budget statements, annual reports and financial statements to enable comparisons and a clear read between budgeted and actual expenditure. Additionally, enhanced financial training and ongoing professional development could be offered to members and their advisers.
Report: Is less more?: towards better Commonwealth performance, Dept. of Finance and Deregulation, 27 March 2012 http://cfar.govspace.gov.au/files/2012/03/CFAR_Discussion_Paper.pdf
YouTube videos an attack on House’s privileges
Videos containing allegations about a minister’s private life and making disturbing threats against him were posted on YouTube by Anonymous in reaction to his sponsorship of a controversial bill. The minister said the videos were an attempt to intimidate him in his role as an MP and that this was a contempt of the House. The Speaker concluded that the threats were a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of the House, and referred the matter for review.
Hansard: Alleged interference of Minister’s ability to discharge responsibilities, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 27 Feb. 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=5403051#SOB-6733041; Alleged interference of Minister’s ability to discharge responsibilities – Speaker’s ruling, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 6 March 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=5430473#SOB-6836524
Members’ right of access to parliamentary precinct
Heightened security at Parliament for the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister led to some members being impeded in gaining access to the parliamentary precinct. Raising this as a question of privilege, a member claimed that because the Speakers of both Houses had delegated authority for operations, maintenance and security to government agencies, members were not in control of the parliamentary precinct. The Speaker acknowledged the need to balance security and access, but said that the implementation of security measures could not override members’ right to unfettered access to the parliamentary precinct. The question was referred for review.
Hansard: Members’ access to parliamentary precinct, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 2 March 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=5421786#SOB-6789773; Members’ access to parliamentary precinct – Speaker’s ruling, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 15 March 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=5465504#SOB-6979985
Security of the parliamentary computer network
In evidence to the committee considering the posting of threats against a minister on YouTube, House of Commons officials made it clear that what happens outside the parliamentary network is beyond their control. Potential threats to the parliamentary network are monitored and analysed and there is close cooperation with other government agencies and with the industry. Secure tools and advice and assistance are also available to members for use in their constituency offices.
Hansard: House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Evidence, 15 March 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=5464435&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1
Changes to senators’ conflict of interest code
Proposed amendments to the senators’ conflict of interest code are intended to increase transparency and public confidence, and avoid any misunderstanding about senators’ outside activities. The source and nature, but not the amount, of any income annually over $2,000 and the nature, but not the value, of any assets and liabilities over $10,000, together with a senator’s employment, profession or business, would be published on the internet. Senators would also disclose this information in respect of their spouses or partners, but it would not be published.
Report: Senate Standing Committee on the Conflict of Interest for Senators, Third report, 29 March 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/411/conf/rep/rep03mar12-e.htm
Public feedback on the effect of legislation
The recently established Senate committee for scrutinising the implementation of laws has set up a blog and online questionnaire for each of the seven laws it is currently examining, to provide an opportunity for people to express their views on the effect of the laws on their daily lives. It is also inviting suggestions for other topics or specific laws that could be examined by the committee.
Press release: A l'initiative de son président M. David Assouline, la commission sénatoriale pour le contrôle de l'application des lois a décidé d'ouvrir 7 plateformes participatives pour mieux mesurer l'impact des lois et leur appropriation par les citoyens, 1 March 2012 http://www.senat.fr/presse/cp20120301a.html
Tighter controls on conflicts of interest recommended
A long-running inquiry into allegations of corruption in the planning process has recommended changes to corruption laws. They include widening the scope of the laws governing conflicts of interest of MPs and others to cover family members and close associates. There should also be more extensive reporting of interests and more effective regulation of conflicts arising from post-term employment. The self-regulatory nature of Oireachtas committees’ investigations into members’ conflicts of interests should be counteracted by giving the Standards in Public Office Commission a supervisory role over the committees.
Glossary: Oireachtas – Parliament
Report: The final report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, 22 March 2012 http://www.planningtribunal.ie/asp/Reports.asp?ObjectID=310&Mode=0&RecordID=504
Member’s swearing in declared invalid
Despite the respondents’ argument that the constitutional provision requiring members to take an oath of allegiance does not state that this must take place in Niue, the Niue High Court ruled that the swearing in of a member in Auckland last year was invalid. Following the election in May, the Speaker travelled to Auckland in September to administer the oath to a member who was receiving medical treatment there. The judge said that the private ceremony in Auckland was not really a swearing in as contemplated by the constitution.
Media articles: Toi village constituency seat declared invalid, Niue News One, 1 March 2012 http://www.niuenews1.com/toi-village-constituency-seat-declared-invalid/13354; Niue by-election after oath declared void, Radio New Zealand, 7 March 2012 http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=66660
Right of dissolution for government not supported
Supporters of a motion to grant the government the right to dissolve the Storting in certain circumstances thought that since a government gains its authority from the Storting, if this was weakened or lost then the will of the people should be able to be expressed through an election. The committee considering the motion could not see that giving an indirectly elected government the possibility to dissolve the popularly elected parliament would strengthen democracy. It said that Norway had a long tradition of ensuring government in difficult parliamentary situations. The committee also did not support the motion’s proposal to require a newly formed government to seek a vote of confidence from the Storting.
Glossary: Stortinget – Parliament
Report: Innstilling fra kontroll- og konstitusjonskomiteen om grunnlovsforslag fra Carl I. Hagen, Øystein Djupedal, Hill-Marta Solberg, Olav Akselsen, Berit Brørby, Lodve Solholm, Svein Roald Hansen og Ivar Skulstad med sikte på å innføre en ordning med oppløsningsrett og positiv parlamentarisme (investitur), 6 March 2012 http://www.stortinget.no/Global/pdf/Innstillinger/Stortinget/2011-2012/inns-201112-212.pdf
Papua New Guinea
Constitutionality of deferred election
Responding to the Electoral Commissioner’s announcement that the 2012 general election would proceed as required by the constitution and to criticism by a former lawyer to the Electoral Commission that deferral of the election would be undemocratic, the Speaker stated that the constitution did not set a mandatory five year term and that a general election could be held when Parliament by an absolute majority decided. He said that it was not the role of the Electoral Commissioner to set the election date; it was Parliament that determined the commencement of the election period.
Public notice: Office of the Speaker, Nonggorr and Trawen wrong on deferral of elections, Post-Courier, 12 March 2012 http://files.pngperspective.com/200000264-15f8716f2a/Speaker%20notice%20on%20elections%20-%20Post%20120312.pdf
Media articles: 2012 elections will proceed, Post-Courier, 29 February 2012 http://www.postcourier.com.pg/20120229/news04.htm; Deferral of 2012 polls seen as undemocratic, Post-Courier, 29 February 2012 http://www.postcourier.com.pg/20120229/news18.htm
Parliamentary oversight of judicial impartiality
The Judicial Conduct Bill 2012 was introduced and passed on the same day. The new act, backdated to 1 November 2011, requires judges to disqualify themselves from, or not influence, a proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. If it appears to Parliament that a judge has failed to do this, it will refer the judge to the Governor-General to appoint a tribunal that will investigate and report to Parliament or refer the matter to another authority. If a tribunal reports to Parliament that a judge is in breach of the act, Parliament may take any necessary action, including initiation of a process that could lead to the removal of the judge from office.
Media articles: House passes judicial bill, The National, 22 March 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/30553; Judicial Act ‘a vendetta’, The National, 23 March 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/30612; PM defends judicial act, The National, 26 March 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/30673
Constitutional review of the three arms of government
There will be an inquiry into the operation of the constitution in relation to the three arms of government, the chairman of the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission announced. The nationwide inquiry will gauge people’s views on recently passed legislation, including the Judicial Conduct Act. The chairman said the review was timely as a lot of things had happened in the past nine months that had tested the working of the constitution.
Media article: Kapris: Constitution set for major review, The National, 28 March 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/30768
Parliamentary proceedings cannot be questioned in court
In a claim for damages arising out of the integration of Queensland’s racing codes, Queensland Harness Racing Ltd said it had supported the bill to effect the amalgamation on the basis of an assurance that had since been broken, and that without its support the minister would not have introduced the bill. Under the Parliament of Queensland Act the proceedings of Parliament, which include presenting a document to Parliament and preparing a document for presentation, cannot be questioned in court. The judge considered that establishing whether the minister's decision to introduce the bill had been influenced by QHRL's support amounted to questioning the preparation and presentation of a document to Parliament, which the court could not do.
Judgment: Supreme Court of Queensland, Queensland Harness Racing Limited & Ors v Racing Queensland Limited & Anor  QSC 34, 5 March 2012 http://archive.sclqld.org.au/qjudgment/2012/QSC12-034.pdf
Original Parliament building demolished
The Fale Fono, the symbolic former Parliament House, was demolished because, the government said, it was unsafe and unused. The Speaker initially issued an order to halt the demolition, but, after consultation with the Prime Minister, gave an assurance that it had been agreed to establish a museum on the Fale Fono’s foundations.
Media articles: Samoa divided over planned demolition of old parliament, Radio New Zealand, 6 March 2012 http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=66638; WAIT! Speaker orders Freedom’s demise stopped, Samoa Observer, 12 March 2012 http://www.samoaobserver.ws/index.php?view=article&id=38421%3Await-speaker-orders-&option=com_content&Itemid=58; 'Put your trust in me', Speaker says, Samoa Observer, 13 March 2012 http://www.samoaobserver.ws/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=38436:put-your-trust&catid=58:news-briefs
Guaranteed percentage of women’s seats
A constitutional amendment that would guarantee at least 10% of Parliament’s seats were held by women was debated. If, after an election, women held fewer than five of the 49 seats, extra seats would be added to make up a total of five women members. The seats would be allocated to those unsuccessful women candidates who had gained the highest percentage of votes. The current Parliament has two women members.
Media articles: Women in Parliament discussed, Samoa Observer, 7 March 2012 http://www.samoaobserver.ws/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=38346:women-in-parliament&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50; Parliament debates Women bill, Samoa Observer, 13 March 2012 http://www.samoaobserver.ws/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=38438:parliament-debates-woman&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50
Reserved seats for women
The Prime Minister announced that the government is committed to its policy of ten reserved seats for women, but will take a developmental rather than rights-based approach. He said that the idea of reserved seats must be in the context of the constitution, and be compatible with its spirit in terms of promoting equality for all citizens.
Media article: Reserved seats for women will take a developmental approach: PM Lilo, Islands Business, 5 March 2012
Conversion of constituency funds
Fraudulent conversion to his own use of $280,000 of micro fisheries projects money intended for his constituents resulted in a member being sentenced to 14 months imprisonment, and consequently the loss of his seat in Parliament. The Principal Magistrate said that one of the most disturbing features of the trial was the discovery that none of the members to whom these funds had been allocated had submitted any reports or retirement of the funds to the responsible minister or to Parliament.
Media article: Kemakeza jailed, loses seat, Solomon Star, 15 March 2012 http://www.solomonstarnews.com/news/national/13958-kemakeza-jailed-loses-seat
Changes to members’ travel entitlement
Members are entitled to an annual allowance of $12,500 to spend on domestic or international travel for purposes related to their duties and responsibilities as members, e.g. attending events or conferences, undertaking studies or investigations. The rules for the use of the entitlement for family members have now been tightened after a minister used it to take her young daughter to India with her last year. Only spouses or partners may accompany a member, and only when they have been formally invited to an approved event or function. No approval is required for staff to accompany a member, provided they are not a spouse or partner.
Determination: Determination of the Remuneration Tribunal of South Australia, Members of Parliament travel entitlement and rules, 9 March 2012 http://www.remtribunal.sa.gov.au/determinations/parliamentary-members/DT-01%20of%202012%20-%20Members%20of%20Parliament%20Travel%20Entitlement%20Rules%20FINAL.pdf
Report: Remuneration Tribunal of South Australia, Report relating to Determination No. 1 of 2012, Members of Parliament travel entitlement and rules, 9 March 2012 http://www.remtribunal.sa.gov.au/determinations/parliamentary-members/RT-01%20of%202012%20-%20MP%20Travel%20Entitlement%20Rules%20Report%20FINAL.pdf
Media article: Travel perk scrapped for SA MPs, The West, 15 March 2012 http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/national/13177985/travel-perk-scrapped-for-sa-mps/
Members’ pay rises
With Tasmanian MPs’ pay set at 85.19% of the base salary of federal MPs, the Premier said action was needed to ensure Tasmanian MPs did not receive an inappropriate 30% windfall from this month’s pay rise for federal MPs. Her preferred option is to link the base salary of Tasmanian MPs to the award governing the Tasmanian public service. She has written to the Leaders of the Opposition and the Greens and to the President of the Legislative Council to seek their support for a change to the legislation.
Press release: Action on MP’s wages, 8 March 2012 http://www.media.tas.gov.au/release.php?id=34412; Public service wage agreement welcomed, 9 March 2012 http://www.media.tas.gov.au/release.php?id=34424
Media articles: Move to block pollie pay rises, ABC News, 9 March 2012 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-08/move-to-block-pollie-pay-rises/3877548; Premier battles pay row, The Mercury, 14 March 2012 http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2012/03/14/309361_tasmania-news.html
Misuse of parliamentary funded flat and parliamentary office
A member allowed a friend to stay rent-free in his parliamentary funded flat in London from October 2002 to October 2003 in breach of the rule, explicitly set out in guidance to members in June 2003, that the accommodation allowance was not to be used to meet another person’s living costs. It was recommended that the member should repay half of the accommodation allowance he claimed between June and October 2003. It was also recommended that the member should apologise for running a charity from his parliamentary office. A heavier penalty was discounted as he had raised the matter with the House authorities, but had received no response.
Report: House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, Dr Liam Fox, HC 1887, 15 March 2012 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmstnprv/1887/1887.pdf
MPs’ pension contributions raised
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority confirmed that MPs' pension contribution rates would rise and that MPs could, if they wished, opt to reduce their contributions, thereby also reducing the rate at which their benefit accrued. In his submission to IPSA, the Speaker regretted that, by increasing the contribution rates now, the Authority had departed from its commitment to consider MPs' remuneration package in the round and base its decisions on a thorough evidence-based review. He also questioned the rationale for allowing MPs only a one-off opportunity to decide on their contributions rather than offering them regular opportunities to change.
Submission: Speaker, Submission to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority's review of the MPs' pension scheme, 29 Feb. 2012 http://www.parliament.uk/documents/speaker/Speaker's-Response-to-the-Review-of-MPs-Pension-Scheme-29-02-2012.pdf
Press releases: Speaker’s submission to IPSA’s review of the MPs’ pension scheme, 1 March 2012 http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2012/march/speakers-submission-to-ipsas-review-of-the-mps-pension-scheme; IPSA increases MP pension contribution rates, 19 March 2012 http://www.parliamentarystandards.org.uk/NewsAndMedia/Pages/LatestNews2.aspx?ListNews=739f9c00-b7d4-4282-bffd-9ae51fd8d92d&NewsId=35
Parliamentary privilege and injunctions
Respect for court orders should be presumed in Parliament unless a member can demonstrate that non-compliance is in the public interest or enables them to discharge their parliamentary duties, a joint committee looking into the law concerning privacy and injunctions considered. If injunctions were being breached gratuitously or if there was evidence that members were being ‘fed’ injuncted material so it could be revealed in Parliament, then the committee recommended introducing restrictive measures. It also recommended that qualified privilege should apply to media reports of parliamentary proceedings in the same way as to abstracts and extracts from Hansard.
Report: Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions, Privacy and injunctions, HL Paper 273, HC 1443, 27 March 2012 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201012/jtselect/jtprivinj/273/273.pdf
Freedom of information requests
Freedom of information requests to the National Assembly mostly concern members' expenses and allowances, and Assembly staffing and expenditure. It has been proposed that pro-active publishing of the kind of information that is likely to be the subject of such requests could lessen the burden on staff to fulfil them and improve some response times.
Report: Handling requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Assembly Commission, 8 March 2012 http://senedd.assemblywales.org/documents/s5944/AC420122%20Paper%205%20-%20Freedom%20of%20Information.pdf
UK legislation affecting National Assembly's legislative competence
Now that the National Assembly has greater legislative powers, it is anticipated that there will be more occasions when bills in the United Kingdom Parliament will contain provisions that have an impact on the Assembly's legislative competence. A committee has recommended that the Assembly should set out its understanding of the convention that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate on matters devolved to the Assembly without the Assembly's consent. The committee also called for greater Assembly scrutiny of the powers transferred to ministers of the Welsh government by UK acts.
Report: Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Inquiry into powers granted to Welsh ministers in UK law, 23 March 2012 http://www.assemblywales.org/bus-home/bus-business-fourth-assembly-laid-docs/cr-ld8857-e.pdf?langoption=3&ttl=CR-LD8857%20-%20Constitutional%20and%20Legislative%20Affairs%20Committee%20Report%20on%20the%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Granting%20of%20Powers%20to%20Welsh%20Ministers%20in%20UK%20Laws Press release: National Assembly committee calls for more scrutiny of powers devolved from Westminster, 23 March 2012 http://www.assemblywales.org/newhome/new-news-fourth-assembly.htm?act=dis&id=231993&ds=3/2012
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