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State Scene - If US presidents do it ...

PREMIER Gallop’s official website carries information that, on the face of it, looks impressive.

For instance, it makes this commendable claim: “A fundamental commitment of my Government is that we will be open and accountable.

“We aim to make as much information about the government and its activities available on-line as possible – including our Ministerial Code of Conduct and our proposed MPs Code of Conduct.”

This commitment to openness is pertinent today because of the current hullabaloo about lobbying.

What’s been forgotten during this fracas – which promptly degenerated into an anti-Brian Burke frenzy – was the announcement by Independent Liz Constable’s that she’d introduce a private members bill regulating lobbying.

Since her bill, which needs Government backing to become law, is still being drafted, little can be said about it.

What can be said, however, is that if it doesn’t require dual reportage, meaning all lobbyists as well as those being lobbied reporting on activities, then it will be weak legislation.

Requiring only lobbyists to report their activities isn’t enough.

Secondly, if it only requires lobbyists to disclose whom they’ve lobbied, but not on whose behalf and what they were paid for that work, it’s further weakened.

Inclusion of both removes the single undesirable aspect of lobbying – its clandestine nature.

Voters must be able to find out who was lobbying whom, on behalf of whom, and what a lobbyist was paid.

Revealing the financial component is a requirement of American State and Federal legislation, so is something American legislators see no difficulties in requiring.

But the few MPs I’ve discussed financial disclosure would baulk at this, which doesn’t entirely surprise me.

Australian politicians treat remunerations within politics and public policy markedly more protectively than their American counterparts.

Take, for instance, Dr Gallop’s Ministerial Code of Conduct.

Its section titled ‘Declaration of Pecuniary and Other Interests’ is extremely coy on disclosure of spouses’ earnings.

“A Minister shall disclose to the cabinet secretary on a confidential basis all the pecuniary and other interests of his/her spouse and dependent family,” it reads.

“All disclosed information is to be recorded and retained by the Cabinet Secretary.”

So, only cabinet secretaries – never voters – are fully informed.

This contrasts to, say, US Vice-President Dick Cheney’s treatment of his 2001 taxes.

His press statement detailed not only of his, but also his wife’s, earnings.

“Vice-President Cheney and Mrs Cheney announced today thatthey have filed their federal in-come tax return for 2001 today,” the release said.

The tax return showed that for 2001 the Cheneys owed federal taxes of $US1,720,271 on a tax-able income of $US4,308,142.

“Included in the wage and salary income reported on the tax return is the vice-president’s $US174,475 government salary and $US1,598,977 in bonus or deferred compensation earned by Mr Cheney from Halliburton Company, where he served as chief executive until he resigned on August 16 2000,” it said.

His 377-word release – too long to quote here – said Mrs Cheney received lump sum payments of deferred compensation from company boards from which she had resigned.

She showed her income from the American Enterprise Institute and compensation from Reader’s Digest and American Express Mutual Funds (Board Services Corporation) on whose boards she serves.

Publishers Simon and Schuster paid her $US50,000, an advance on royalties from her coming

book, America: A Patriotic Primer, money that she donated to the American Red Cross.

There’s more for those who care to log on to the White House’s website.

The release on President Bush and his wife’s taxation shows taxable income of $US711,453 for 2001 and $US250,221 in Federal inp Noel Dyson

SMALL business groups are claiming a small victory following a Trade Practices Act review recommendation that will allow small businesses to band together to negotiate collectively with big businesses.

Under current rules small businesses risk million dollar fines if they try collective action.

The Federal Government has given its support to the recommendation, which was one of 43  from the review chaired by Sir Daryl Dawson.

Small business groups have been calling for greater protection from big businesses that they claim unfairly use their market power.

Despite this win the review has been widely branded as overly conservative, something most business groups expected.

Those with a more cynical bent have questioned why the Government chose to release the report on the same day that the HIH Royal Commission findings were handed down.

Other key recommendations from the report included a time limit of six months for the consideration of non-merger applications for authorisation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the introduction of criminal sanctions for serious cartel behaviour, and changes to the merger authorisation process.

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello said the combined effect of the introduction of a notification process for collective bargaining by small business and amending the authorisation process would be to improve the accessibility and effectiveness of the act for small business.

Motor Trade Association of WA executive director Peter Fitzpatrick said unions had for years the right to collectively bargain with employers, allowing large businesses to flex their muscles because of their substantial market power.

‘In the past this has meant that small businesses, or small to medium-sized enterprises, are fully ex-posed to the full brunt of union power and invariably they have little or no influence over the prices set for them by large corporations,” he said.

“In short, many motor industry SMEs are cornered in a way that makes it very difficult for them to negotiate a reasonable return for the many hours of effort they put into running their businesses.”

However, there are those within the small business community who believe the right to collectively bargain will count for little.

Key among the concerns is how such a collective bargaining system would work and who would be responsible for coordinating it.

WA Retailers Association CEO Martin Dempsey said getting small businesses to band together was difficult. He was also one of the many to brand the Dawson review overly conservative.

“Small business needs help,” Mr Dempsey said.

Small Business and Enterprise Association executive director Philip Achurch said he was unsure whether the collective bargaining arrangement would make much difference.

“The overall review hasn’t produced anything for small business,” he said.

“There is no increase protection for small business on unconscionable conduct. It’s almost irrelevant.

“The review doesn’t address the problem of unequal market power. That should be the focus.”

In 1997 the ACCC was given funding and a direction to go after large businesses that used unconscionable conduct in their dealings with small businesses.

However, to date its success rate in bringing big business to book has been abymissal.

The first test case the ACCC ran has finally come to an end with the High Court last month dismissing the ACCC’s appeal against a decision made by the Full Bench of the Federal Court.

That case, ACCC v Berbatis Holdings, was an appeal against a finding of the full bench of the Federal Court that related to an action the com-mission started against the landlords of the Farrington Fayre shopping centre.

In the time it has taken for that case to play out, at least one of the original small business owners involved in the case has died.

Freehills Intellectual Property partner Richard Price said the Trade Practices Act did little to protect small businesses affected by big businesses unfairly using their market power.

“They’ve been doing it for years in Europe and the US but over here it’s hard to prove misuse of market power,” he said.come taxes paid.

“The President’s 2001 income included: salary as president; state salary earned as governor in 2000, but paid in 2001; investment income from the state and federal blind trusts in which their assets are held; and losses related to the disposition of ownership in the GWB Rangers Corporation,” it reads.

For 2001 President Bush and Vice-President Cheney in fact released partial returns, while for tax year 2000 President Bush released only his tax form.

Vice-President Cheney provided a summary of his taxes without releasing his tax form.

Since the 1970s most presidents have released their returns, following Franklin D Roosevelt’s example.

And a group called The Tax History Project at Tax Analysts maintains a website that carries presidential tax returns – www.Tax.org/THP/Presidential/default

Moreover, photocopies can be ordered from Tax Analysts or the Bush, Carter, Nixon, Reagan, and Roosevelt presidential archives.

Imagine something like that posted on Dr Gallop’s website, or his predecessors’, and successors’, for that matter.

Let’s wait and see if Dr Gallop insists on financial disclosure by lobbyists if Dr Constable’s bill doesn’t include it.

State Scene’s guess is if she hasn’t included it, his government won’t insist on its inclusion, meaning the past month’s lobbying fracas will have been an utter waste of time, though very costly to WA’s two blackballed lobbyists, Brian Burke and Julian Grill.

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