Health funding boost for Calvary

IMG_8222 Calvary with CM&DCM

I joined Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Health Minister Simon Corbell at Calvary Hospital today to announce a boost to Cavalry and Canberra Hospitals.  An extra $40.6 million over four years in the ACT Budget on June 2nd will increase capacity at both hospitals. It includes:
• opening two ICU beds and a further 16 acute beds in the next financial year.
• $2.1 million to create a better internal ICT system and establish a coordination unit to better manage the allocation of beds
• an expansion of the Hospital in the Home program to allow more people to be cared for at home
• and funding for Calvary to look at feasibility options for additional beds and the expansion and refurbishment of pharmacy and pathology.

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CPA Seminar – Day 4

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Day four of the CPA conference in Dhaka began with a session on the relationship between parliament, the executive and the people that emphasised the need for transparency and accountability to maintain the trust of the people in the legislature; parliamentary committees are essential for ensuring that these qualities are maintained in parliaments. Mr Marwick Khumalo MP, Swaziland expressed concern about the dominance of the legislature by the executive in developing countries, and in particular the power of the party over the executive. He quoted Nelson Mandela’s 1994 speech that the executive must ‘regularly account to this assembly for the work we do’. In Swaziland ministers can be expelled from parliament following a no confidence motion. Barry House MLC, Western Australia, talked about the historical development of the Westminster system commencing with the Magna Carta in establishing the accountability of the executive to the people, the January parliament of 1265, and the 1689 English Bill of Rights. Variations in the handling of petitions in different parliaments were discussed, in the Western Australian Legislative Council all petitions are automatically referred to a committee for initial inquiry and then report if the committee decides to proceed with the issue. In Bangladesh petitions are considered by a committee if they are issues not currently or formerly considered by the judiciary, the executive or the legislature. In South Africa petitions that are in order are referred to a committee set up for this purpose that then considers whether the matter warrants further consideration including an inquiry to which the petitioners and ministers could be asked to attend. South African MP Lindiwe Maseko stated that the separation of powers was a concern for her and that Ministers must be responsive to the legislature and to the people. She also raised the difficulties in getting attendance at public hearings that may be at unsociable hours or attract unemployed people who turn up for the tea and biscuits. In Jersey, according to Connetable John Martin, the equivalent of local mayors sit in their parliament taking up 12 of the 51 seats. I sought comment on the recent ACT suggestion that members of the public should be able to have issues debated as a matter of public importance – delegates expressed concern that elected representatives might have their independence hampered by such a rule.

In the next session the Bangladesh Auditor-General, Mr Masud Ahmed, talked about the importance of ensuring that there was no exclusion of any particular group within the public service to promote fairness and to gain the advantage of alternative viewpoints. He also talked about increasing oversight of the financial affairs of political parties. The Bangladesh Auditor-General has a quasi-judicial role and may issue summonses during an inquiry. He also addressed government service delivery and emphasised fairness, consistency and accountability in contrast with the private sector where the commonly regarded benefits are efficiency and responsiveness. Recent inquiry topics have included formalin handling and the state of public hospitals. Delegate questions were discussed including electoral expenditure, referral of matters for investigation, performance audits targeting, where do reports go, and is there wages growth along with the economic growth in Bangladesh.

The final session of the seminar, chaired by Speaker Chaudhury, was a summing up of the sessions and considered the way forward. A point made Ms Valerie Curtis, Deputy Clerk of the Jamaican Parliament, was that the Jamaican Integrity Commission requires an annual report of assets and liabilities from MPs and senior public servants. The reinforcement of the bonds of the Commonwealth, the sharing of experiences from the 23 parliaments represented and the education of delegates present were the hallmarks of this seminar. The leadership of Speaker Chaudhury, who is also CPA chairperson, as well as the capability and hospitality of Bangladesh branch of the CPA were highly praised by the delegates. On behalf of the ACT CPA branch I congratulated Speaker Chaudhury, the Bangladesh CPA, and the CPA secretariat for their success in conducting this seminar. I noted that my exposure to the different expressions of the Westminster system from around the Commonwealth had stimulated ideas that I could take back to the ACT for potential implementation.

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CPA Seminar – Day 3

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The third day of the CPA seminar opened with a session on HIV/AIDS. This was a in-depth briefing on HIV by Bangladesh MP Dr Mohammed Enamur Rahman. He reported that the first Bangladesh case was in 1989, currently there is a low incidence. Prevention has included sexual transmission, vertical transmission and IV drug users. Condom use has increased significantly across all vulnerable groups. The role of parliamentarians is to combat silence, fear, ignorance and prejudice – they must mobilise action across the community including their influence upon social, traditional and religious leaders. Laws built within a human rights framework are needed however there was clear disagreement about the definition of human rights. I raised my concerns about the presenter’s negative attitudes to human rights to sexual orientation, same sex marriage, abortion, and sex education for children. Many delegates strongly echoed my concerns. The history of India was highlighted by Venkatesh Nayak, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, who reminded delegates that Indian legislation against same sex relationships was derived from colonial rule by Britain in the 19th century. The situation of HIV/AIDS in Kenya was presented by Boniface Gatobu MP who talked about the role of women MPs in the Kenyan parliament who advocated for better access to HIV treatment, 15% of the Kenyan budget is now allocated to HIV/AIDS.

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Session 9 considered gender and human rights. Dr Chaudhury, Bangladesh Speaker, drew attention to the importance of the millenium development goals for women. Bringing women into the mainstream of macroeconomic development is very important – whilst microcredit initiatives are useful they will not do the heavy lifting required. Women in Parliament are needed to be part of the decision making process; quota systems address the underrepresentation of women. Party mindsets need to be addressed, are there enough women in administrative positions? Are there financial constraints as many jurisdictions require significant campaign expenditure? These form some of the structural barriers to the election of women. I asked if the CPA could also begin to consider the parliamentary representation of indigenous peoples.  Mr Venkatesh Nayak, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, talked about the development of international human rights. Parliament’s role is to set standards by encouraging governments to sign international agreements and conventions on human rights. It is possible to sign up to a convention and exclude a clause or part of the convention. Parliaments should also push for ratification of these signed conventions by governments and consider which laws or constitutional elements may require modification. Monitoring standards by evaluating the performance of responsible bodies is necessary and ensuring the true picture of human rights is presented in reports. Oversight requires vetting of existing laws, rules, practices and customary law. In the UK a parliamentary committee scrutinises every bill for human rights compliance that comes before the parliament. This is a similar position to the ACT. Budget compliance with human rights standards should also be considered. The use of MPs to raise human rights violations rather than seeking judicial assistance could be a new role; it would reduce costs, delays and barriers for victims. National human rights institutions are important as is human rights education for all ages.

The final session of the day was ‘Parliament, the Member and the Media’. Delegates were reminded of the 2003 CPA position paper on the media, see below.  Surprisingly some delegates did not engage on social media and expressed their distrust and lamented their inability to control or hold it to account.

http://www.cpahq.org/CPAHQ/CMDownload.aspx?ContentKey=c748ff21-ed02-46ed-95c0-8b5836d1d295&ContentItemKey=5356e94f-2e7f-462c-a05a-4bb22a636064

 

 

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CPA Seminar – Day 2

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The second day of the CPA seminar began with a session on the member of parliament and the party, I was honoured to be selected as chairperson for this session.  Senator Moses Wetangula from Kenya, and a candidate for the next Kenya presidential election, spoke first about the work of Kenyan parliamentarians who have to meet an extremely broad range of constituent expectations including funeral director, road builder, and paying school fees!  There was considerable support for strong party structures that mitigate the power of individual MPs to demand support for their personal wants.  In Kenya there are external controls on party governance and internal party issues can be taken to court.  The risk of poor governance and independent MPs holding governments hostage was raised.  In some countries there is an issue with MPs being elected with party membership then becoming independent to demand favours, this is a particular problem in Malawi, and Kenya has legislation to prevent this happening.  Bangladesh MP Suranjit Sengupta talked about the 3 P’s – parliament, people and party.  The representation of women in Parliament was discussed, in Bangladesh the Prime Minister and Speaker are women.

Parliamentary ethics, accountability and transparency are the three pillars of good governance and are essential to building the trust of people in their parliament. Ethics was defined as the difference between what you have a right to do and what it is right to do. Codes of conduct, ethical standards and transparency mechanisms were discussed. There was agreement that whilst regular elections are very important, mechanisms for accountability between elections were also required. In many countries the digital divide impedes the access of poor people to information about parliament. In some countries enabling access at regional libraries has been used. Problems raised included the lack of certainty about sitting commencement and duration and a lack of notice about the business of the day being notified to MPs and the community. I asked about whether there was a preference in other jurisdictions between rules or principles for parliamentarians, the indication was that in developing democracies rules were preferred. A question was also asked about election monitoring when a party boycotts an election, this was relevant to the recent situation in Bangladesh.

The work of committees and the committee system was considered in session six. Many legislatures routinely refer their bills to committee as part of their legislative process. The Malaysian representative, Speaker Devamany, advocated for continuing professional development for parliamentarians and in particular a specific university degree course in parliamentary governance. In Jamaica, according to Deputy Clerk Valerie Curtis, many committees are chaired by ministers which is contrary to practice in other jurisdictions.

The final session of the day dealt with the economy and parliament. The Bangladesh Auditor General, Mr Masud Ahmed, gave an overview of the role of parliament in scrutinising executive expenditure through public accounts committees and scrutinising budgets which require legislation and an estimates committee process. I asked whether a recent analysis of parliamentary financial oversight across the world that suggested the quasi-judicial inquiry in Francophone systems delivered a strong process with consistency and Anglophone systems were more robust. The analysis concluded that an amalgamation of public accounts and estimates committees could be beneficial. There was some support but no agreement with this proposal. The delegate from Ghana, Cletus Apul Avoka MP, asked whether MPs need to understand the ‘nitty-gritty’ of budgets, the Bangladesh Auditor General explained his work in briefing and training for MPs.

After the day’s sessions CPA delegates met with the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheihk Hasina, and discussed parliamentary procedure in the Commonwealth.

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CPA seminar – Day 1

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The 26th CPA parliamentary seminar opened yesterday at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The purpose of the CPA is to support good governance through parliamentary democracy by enabling parliamentarians and parliamentary staff to meet the challenges of modern government. Dr Shirin Shimin Chaudhury, Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament and CPA Chairperson, gave an opening address welcoming delegates to Bangladesh. Dr Chadhury spoke about the opportunities the Commonwealth provided for alternative perspectives on global development and the importance of parliamentary procedures for delivering democratic outcomes.

The opening address was followed by three sessions on the Commonwealth and the role of the CPA, the parliamentary and political scene in Bangladesh and the role of the Speaker and staff in a parliament.

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The first session was an overview of the history and evolution of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association since 1911.  The role of the CPA within the Commonwealth was discussed including whether the CPA should be primarily about delivering professional development for parliamentarians and the staff of parliaments, as is does now, or if it’s role should be for stronger advocacy within the Commonwealth and at CHOGM.  The CPA outreach programs such as the Commonwealth Youth Parliament were discussed.

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The second session was presented by Professor  MP on the history of Bangladesh leading up to independence on 1971 and since.  Professor Ashraf was a passionate speaker who took us through the horrors of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence in which 3 million people died.  We learned that 70-80% of the population usually votes. There were some insightful questions about the most recent election in which one major party did not run.

The final session was about the role of Speaker in a parliament.  Dr Chaudhruy, Bangladesh Speaker, and Ms Valerie Curtis, Deputy Clerk of the Jamaican Parliament, addressed the meeting.  The need for the Speaker to be impartial and neutral was emphasised by Dr Chaudhruy.    Whilst she spoke of the Speakers authority being derived from the constitution there seemed to be a difference between the Bangladesh and Australian systems where the support of the parliament is needed to enable the Speaker’s work.  The role of the Speaker to maintain order, make rulings and administer a parliament were considered.  Ms Curtis gave some insight into the work of the clerks of parliament, particularly in providing advice to parliamentarians.  The ensuing Q&A were around topics such as the tension between the Speakers role as a politician and as the impartial authority in the chamber.  Interestingly in Jamaica all MPs have access to electoral development funds to spend on infrastructure within their electorate.  One delegate spoke about the stress upon Speakers when he related a story of his Speaker who had collapsed and later died following a difficult debate.

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At the completion of the day’s sessions delegates were given a tour of the Bangladesh Parliament.  Designed by Louis Kahn, and begun in 1961, it is a spectacular building surrounded by water.

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Asia Foundation

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Yesterday I visited the Dhaka office of the Asia Foundation where I met with Peter Yates, a  fellow Canberran.  I heard about the work the Foundation is doing here in Bangladesh particularly to promote democracy through fair elections, such as the recent municipal elections here in Dhaka,  and encouraging accountability for the use of public monies.  The Asia Foundation is also supporting the development of a less environmentally damaging leather industry with fairer pay and conditions for workers.

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Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy in Bangladesh

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This morning I arrived in Bangladesh where I will  be representing the ACT Legislative Assembly at the 29th Commonwealth Parliamentary Seminar in Dhaka. The theme of the seminar is ‘Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy’.  I will be blogging regularly  from Dhaka this week so please check on my updates for more news.

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Nepalese community support

Nepalese community support 12-5-15

Ambassador for Nepal Mr Rudra Kumar Nepal, and members of Canberra’s Nepalese community, attended the ACT Legislative Assembly for our condolence motion for the victims of the major earthquake on April 25th. Tragically another strong series of quakes hit the region later in the day after this photo was taken. Many charities including Red Cross and Oxfam are collecting donations for Nepal.

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Mother’s Day Classic tribute wall

Mothers Day classic

Members of the Legislative Assembly attaching our contributions to the Mother’s Day tribute wall ready for the run on Sunday.  The Mother’s Day Classic walk or run around Lake Burley Griffin on Mother’s Day morning is a great way to support breast cancer research.

In 2014, a record 130,000 people across Australia ran or walked in a Mother’s Day Classic event in 11 cities and 88 regional towns. They raised $4.5 million for National Breast Cancer Foundation research programs.

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Citizenship Ceremony – Albert Hall

Citizenship - Copy

The Rai family above proudly became Australian citizens along with almost a hundred others at the Albert Hall recently.  As the presiding officer I had the pleasure of welcoming the Rai family as new citizens and new members of the Canberra community.

Canberra’s Albert Hall was the venue of the first Australian citizenship ceremony on 3 February 1949.  Prime Minister Ben Chifley conferred citizenship on seven men, one from each State and Territory.

During 1949, almost 2500 people from more than 35 countries became Australian citizens at ceremonies.  Most were migrants from Italy, Poland, Greece, Germany and Yugoslavia.
Since the first citizenship ceremony 65 years ago, more than 4.5 million people have chosen to become Australian citizens.

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