SAY WHAT you want about the views of Opposition Senator Wade Mark, few would disagree with the private motion he has filed calling for Parliament to be given greater autonomy. Or at least few should.
The motion, due to be debated in Parliament today, presents an opportunity to deepen the discussion on why it is important for our independent institutions to be given control over their financial and administrative affairs. On a purely superficial level, Parliament has been very successful and the argument for autonomy could not be stronger.
While no organisation is completely perfect, the Parliament has been efficiently run over the years. Aside from its ordinary business, it has successfully introduced and developed special projects such as the Parliament Channel which has grown to become an institution on our local broadcasting landscape. Thanks to this channel, citizens can see Parliament debates live and to imbibe well-researched documentaries and features which give us a deeper appreciation of political affairs.
It is also the case that the revamped Standing Orders have wrought innovations which have greatly enhanced accountability. We now have a specific item on the Order Paper which facilitates the questioning of our Prime Minister; a more detailed view of budget provisions, and a sweeping array of specialised committees.
Regarding the latter, we are of the view that strong efforts should be made to bolster the committee system. Committees have proven repeatedly that they are effective mediums through which the sometimes intricate and obscure workings of the State can be ventilated. These committees could do with more powers as well as greater protections. A way of achieving this is by giving Parliament the power to be truly independent.
None of this is to say the Parliament has been without blemish. A series of reports have exposed clear failings – in spirit if not in law – when it comes to the management of constituency office practices, inclusive of the employment of relatives, vehicle allowances and housing provisions.
The Parliament’s inability to openly police these matters, however, is not a factor which militates against autonomy. Rather, commensurate with any reform must be the formulation of better provisions which can address these unsatisfactory matters once and for all.
It should also be understood that parliamentarians alone should not be the ultimate arbiter of the Parliament’s fate. It is hoped members of the public will be heard on this matter as well.
Overall, it is our view that we have much to gain by strengthening the insulation between Parliament and the State. Today’s motion is a chance for all concerned to get the ball rolling.