A key aspect of the system which has entrenched the power of the NSW Labor party’s notorious Right faction will be banned in a major reform announced by the opposition leader, John Robertson.
The practice of factions “binding” their MPs, or forcing them to vote as a block on an issue, has been identified as one way the controversial powerbroker Eddie Obeid maintained his influence over the former Labor government.
The former Premier, Morris Iemma, told the Independent Commission Against Corruption last November that Mr Obeid was a leader of a sub-grouping within the Right faction, nicknamed the Terrigals.
The Terrigals dominated the Right faction caucus, which in turn dominated the full caucus.
The decision of the Right faction to “bind” its MPs on issues being voted on in the general Labor caucus subsequently delivered Mr Obeid enormous power to influence government decision-making.
At a Labor party forum in Parramatta this morning, Mr Robertson said the practice “stood in the way” of open debate among MPs in the caucus.
“I will not allow a small minority to leverage the factional system to make decisions on behalf of the majority,” he said.
Mr Robertson announced that at the next Labor caucus meeting he would move an amendment to change the party rules to ban factions from binding their MPs.
“Labor has a long tradition of caucus solidarity where issues are debated fiercely in the party room and members leave united behind one position,” he told the Parramatta meeting.
“This system only works when MPs are free to argue for what they believe is right. I will end the practice whereby a faction can lock MPs into voting a certain way, before the caucus has even considered the issue.”
The announcement is part of a six-point reform plan outlined by Mr Robertson today, before Mr Obeid gives evidence on Monday to the ICAC.
The commission is investigating allegations that the family of Mr Obeid corruptly stood to make tens of millions of dollars from coal mining exploration leases issued by his colleague, the former mining minister, Ian Macdonald.
Mr Robertson lamented the way the ICAC hearings were distracting from cuts to services being made by the Premier, Barry O’Farrell.
He said he would set “a new standard” for a re-elected Labor government under his leadership
This move included requiring all Labor MPs to disclose their taxable income, including from investments, trusts, outside business interests and parliamentary salaries.
Under the current rules, MPs are required to disclose sources of additional income but not the amount.
“The President of the United States does it, the UK Prime Minister does it and under Labor in Government – every MP in NSW will have to tell you about their income,” Mr Robertson said.
As well, MPs would be required to not only declare to the parliament their pecuniary interests, but also those of their spouse and dependents.
“These changes will make it harder for MPs to conceal conflicts of interest and hide unexplained wealth,” he said.
Mr Robertson said he would impose the new requirement on MPs in his shadow cabinet from March 31 and would lodge his own pecuniary interest declaration reflecting the changes, including his taxable income, by the end of February.
He called on Mr O’Farrell to implement the changes immediately.
Policing new rules
Mr Robertson announced that a Labor government in NSW would introduce an Inspector General for Parliamentary Standards to police the new regime.
The opposition leader also revealed that Labor MPs would be banned from holding second jobs – a proposal which was rejected by shadow cabinet on Tuesday.
Labor’s deputy leader in the upper house, Adam Searle, would be one of the most affected by the proposal as he has continued in private practice since being elected to Parliament in 2011.
At Tuesday’s shadow cabinet meeting he told Mr Robertson he had an agreement with the NSW Labor Party allowing him to run his practice after becoming an MP. He believed the change would breach that.
A spokeswoman for Mr Robertson said shadow cabinet endorsed the change on Saturday.
Mr Robertson also said that under a Labor government ministers would be required to publish a monthly diary online, “to disclose every meeting, phone conversation or other interaction with a lobbyist, private company or MP that relates to a commercial decision or transaction.”
In other changes, all mining licences would have to be approved by cabinet and an independent probity panel would be established to scrutinise the granting of all new exploration licences.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.