O'Farrell's Heir Must Improve Transparency


Hopes that instability and back room deals were a thing of the past have been dashed by the current NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry. Following the resignation of Premier Barry O'Farrell, his successor has a responsibility to restore community confidence in the way the New South Wales Government operates.

This is not just about a $3,000 bottle of wine, but about a fundamental problem with our democracy: that people with money and power have access to decision makers and can potentially influence them in ways that most of the community will never know about.

In my electorate, which is home to the massive Barangaroo redevelopment, people were already cynical about relationships between government and corporate bosses, following what they saw as concessions to advance James Packer’s plan for a second Sydney casino on public land.

There was no tender process, community consultation or social impact assessment and legislation was fast-tracked through parliament, even though it can’t take effect until 2019. We know gambling can be addictive and that casinos can be hotbeds for crime, but casinos win special treatment, like exemptions from smoking and lockout laws.

To further complicate matters, following the 2013 High Court decision that upheld Unions NSW's challenge to Barry O'Farrell's donations laws, a serious loophole has opened. Previously banned political donations, including from corporations, industrial organisations and peak industry groups, may now be permitted.

Now disclosure requirements are only imposed on individuals, so these bodies are able to make donations over $1,000 without anyone ever knowing. My questions in Parliament on the matter are yet to be answered. I believe the new Premier must urgently close this loophole before the disclosure period ends on 30 June 2014.

How can transparency be improved? I asked the Coalition Government last year in Parliament to assess changes made in Queensland to strengthen transparency of contact between government decision makers and lobbyists, including making it mandatory to publish details of all meetings. This suggestion was ignored. One of the new Premier’s first tests will be strengthening the code of conduct between Ministers and those lobbying them.

Healthy democracies have confidence in their governments and this is based on transparency, accountability and community engagement. This has been consistently and repeatedly undermined in NSW, and by successive governments, as we are seeing in the current ICAC inquiries.

We urgently need legislative reform to prevent too-cosy relationships between powerful vested interests and government decision makers. We also need to be able to see that decisions are being made for public benefit, not private interests. That requires regular exposure of relationships, without having to wait for ICAC to catch up with those who fail us.

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