Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Bit on the Side

There are two main arguments as to why politicians should not have outside sources of income.

The first is corruption - certainly a touchy topic in NSW politics at the moment. If a politicians stands to benefit financially by a decision he or she is making, then there is, at the very least, an apprehension of bias.

In a time where cynicism of politicians is probably as great as it has ever been, this should not be tolerated. This is notwithstanding the fact that political parties almost uniformly vote as a bloc, meaning that anyone who stood to gain personally would have to get their entire party on board.

Many politicians start in politics with significant wealth from their pre-politics careers, and nothing is wrong with that in and of itself. And I don't think that anyone is suggesting that politicians should have to take a vow of poverty before they are allowed to sit in parliament.

But their investment portfolios should be placed into blind trusts, to ensure that there cannot be even the suggestion that their decisions are being influenced by the prospect of personal gain. We can't take away their money, but we can ensure that their votes and/or the decisions they make are in no way coloured by the potential of financial gain.

This is something that, I suspect, few could complain about.

There is, however, a more complicated argument against outside income. And it's one that we've already had to deal with in NSW.

This argument relates the politicians who are effectively "part-time" - they have outside sources of income that are not returns on capital but rather returns on labour.

Clover Moore was an obvious example. She was both the Lord Mayor of Sydney and the Local Member for the State electorate of Sydney. In 2012 there were changes made meaning that she was no longer permitted to serve as both a Mayor and a state member, and she (and a large number of other member who were still serving on local councils) had to give it up.
I wrote about the changes here
In fairness to Clover, she donated her mayoral salary to the Lord Mayor Salary Trust, so there could not be any suggestion that she had both jobs for financial gain.

That change in law was, the government claimed, about ensuring that members did not land themselves in a conflict of interest, where their duties as a councillor conflicted with their duties as a local member or member of the Legislative Council.

That's good and well, but my view at the time (and still today) is that if the voters don't care (and clearly they didn't) it was unnecessary to make it law. There was of course also the fact that the change was a fairly transparent attack on Clover.

It's also a more sensitive topic that someone who has quite literally kept their old job after being elected, like Adam Searle:
From the State Chambers website
From the NSW Parliament website
Personally I think it ridiculous that the parties think that it is appropriate for a member to have a significant job outside their parliamentary duties. Regardless of whether the voters don't care, the parties should require a higher standard from those they put forward for election.

It's also more than a little concerning that the Shadow Minster for Industrial Affairs thinks it is appropriate that he keeps accepting briefs when he is a barrister working in Industrial Law.

This is why Robertson is going about this the right way:
From the SMH
I'm not so sure it's fair to change the rules on Searle now - he should never have been allowed to keep practicing and be a MLC in the first place. But of course that's not the point.

People who are elected to the MLC should not have significant paid employment on the side. That shouldn't be law - the parties should have standards about who they put forward for election. Robertson should be forcing people to chose between their old life and their new one, because anything else suggests that being a MLA or MLC is an easy gig you can do on the side.

There is no doubt, however, those who benefit from the present arrangements are going to make this very difficult for him. And, if Robertson pursues this, his sway with the Labor caucus is going to be sorely tested.

No comments:

Post a Comment