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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 5 Hansard (2 May) . . Page.. 1341 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

member before legislation is dealt with on the floor of the house. I would have thought this would be a reasonably cooperative approach.

I would like to deal with the main issues of concern that have been expressed by the members who have spoken in the debate. Obviously, the fundamental aim of this bill is to increase accountability within the system of politics. I hear the argument that somehow this is an infringement of separation of powers. I disagree with that argument. The Electoral Commission already has responsibilities for matters to do with elections. There somehow seems to be a very big division in the argument being put in this place between elections and what occurs while we are members. I do not particularly understand that because-and I think Mr Stanhope did acknowledge this-the argument cannot be divided in that way. What occurs in this place obviously has implications for elections and the two aspects of the political process are not that separate at all.

What this bill is fundamentally about is ensuring that the community has a right to know what public figures are receiving in income. I acknowledge Mr Smyth's concern about a possible lack of clarity between personal gifts and gifts as a representative. I understand that is already an issue, so it is not something new.

This bill strengthens the disclosure requirements by putting them into the realm of the Electoral Commissioner. That clearly is a strengthening. The Electoral Commissioner has a statutory role which gives him or her the capacity to check returns for accuracy. The situation in the Assembly is that information is given to the Clerk. We have guidelines passed by the Assembly that set out how that information is managed. As I understand it, the Clerk basically is custodian of that information. He does not have the powers to check and he does not even particularly know what is in them. If a concern were to eventuate, there would be the capacity, as I understand it, for perhaps a privileges committee of some sort to be set up to look at it. Such a matter could probably be resolved by the member concerned being found to be in contempt of the Assembly. Some members might argue that that is adequate but I do not think it is.

If you want to look at what can go terribly wrong with a political system, the use of influence particularly comes to mind. One only has to look at the United States and the huge political debate now in that country about soft money. In the Australian federal parliament we have had instances of members having shareholdings which have definitely given the perception at least of conflict of interest. You need to intrude into the privacy of what are immensely powerful people. Let us not forget that the people in this place and in every parliament are immensely powerful and for that reason they have to accept a greater degree of scrutiny and accountability in terms of their private business. If they do not want to do that, they should not come into this place, or any other parliament, and be a public figure.

I have heard the argument that there are already enough requirements under the guidelines. You have to say that there is some income but you do not have to say how much it is. The argument has been put that the fact that you say you are receiving an income is adequate. I have to reject that argument as well because clearly the issue of scale has to be of interest to people in the community. If you are receiving income of $1,000 it is probably not going to be as interesting to people as it would be if you were receiving an income of $100,000 from some other occupation.

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