The names of State MPs claiming public money for second homes cannot be released because it would breach their privacy, says the new Speaker of Victoria’s Parliament.
The extraordinary excuse by Colin Brooks MP, who oversees the MP allowances system, was given in response to repeated requests I have made for the information in recent weeks.
It follows my previous investigation into the Victorian MPs’ expenses system which led to the resignation of the previous Speaker, Telmo Languiller, as well as his deputy Don Nardella.
In an email on 16 March 2017, the Speaker told me by email:
“Privacy legislation prevents the release of information related to particular Members of Parliament.”
So despite Premier Daniel Andrews pledging to make the system more transparent, it seems Parliament is resisting any attempts to open up existing allowances for scrutiny.
It is not good enough to just reform the system. All previous allowance payments must be opened up for scrutiny to see if other MPs have already been rorting the system. They have no right to be let off the hook so easily.
Three reasons why hiding behind “privacy legislation” is rubbish:
- It is not personal information! MP salary and allowances levels are already made public – the only thing that is unknown is who is claiming which allowance. Knowing which MPs are claiming for a second home does not reveal any additional personal information.
- There is no precedent for keeping public spending under wraps in this way. The level of information about MPs’ expenses already revealed at Federal level (and right across the democratic world) far exceeds that of the Victorian Parliament, which is extremely secretive in comparison. The Premier has committed to making this information public in future – with no mention about privacy concerns preventing that happening.
- The Privacy Act has a public interest test. And it is unquestionably in the public interest that this information becomes available for scrutiny to find out who else has been rorting the system.
Full text of the email received 16 March 2017:
Thank you for your enquiry requesting a list of MP’s claiming for second residences.
Under the provisions of the Parliamentary Salaries and Superannuation Act 1968, a member is entitled to an allowance if a second residence is maintained by the member and the member’s home base is outside a radius of 80 kilometres from the Melbourne centre. The allowance is claimed at the member’s discretion.
Privacy legislation prevents the release of information related to particular Members of Parliament. Members do not have to declare their salary, allowances and superannuation benefits paid under the Parliamentary Salaries and Superannuation Act 1968. Similarly, full residential addresses of members are not disclosed for privacy reasons.
Members may personally release this information at their discretion. I refer you to the Register of Members’ Interests, a public document available on via the online Tabled Documents database on Parliament’s website.
Please also note that the Parliamentary Audit Committee is currently undertaking a review of the use of this entitlement.
Hon Colin Brooks MP