Senate Independence and Government Control of Information

A great little quote from a report by Harry Evans who has been Clerk of the Australian Senate for at least the last 20 years. Now that is what I call experience!

More than ever before, independence in the legislature depends on the ability to obtain information that governments would rather conceal. Knowledge has always been power, but the management of information has become the key to government. The executive wants the public to receive only the information favourable to it, and strives to manage the release and the presentation of unfavourable information, and to keep much secret. A functioning legislature is essentially an instrument for breaking down that information management in the interest of the public’s ability to judge governments. It is in this role, however imperfectly, that the Senate, with its committee system and its culture of independence, has performed.

I have always appreciated the Upper House in Australia as a legislature of review or as Don Chipp said “to keep the bastards honest”.  As Australia has a very strong executive government that controls the votes of its backbenchers, this is even more important. The role of parliamentary clerks should not be underestimated as they provide senators with assistance and advice in a professional and apolitical manner in the interests of parliamentary oversight and transparency. These checks and balances strengthen the honesty of governance by asking the “inappropriate questions” that the government may wish to not be raised.

In places like Dubai where I currently reside, there is no bicameral system of government or a form of Westminster system.  The checks and balances cannot come from a Senate-type equivalent which raises the profile of both the media and the public service to promote transparency and provide information to the public so that there is greater awareness of local topics of interest.


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