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The Australian government expenditure transparency

Emilie Dye-Policy Director of the Australian Taxpayers's Alliance shares her insights into Australian government agencies transparency Source: Courtesy of Emilie Dye

Not long after the sports rorts scandal loom large, a Victorian Tennis Club is taking legal action against the Australian federal government over the sports grants. Meanwhile the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance is doing petition to make all level of Australian department expenditure transparency portal more clearer and more available for Australian public and journalists. Senator James McGrath another policymaker who is also setting his goals to make all of the Australian government agencies expenditure transparent. According to the International Transparency, Australian ranks 12 behind the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Developments (OECDs).

Vixay Vue: Here is SBS Radio Hmong program and welcome Emilie Dye the policy adviser from the Australian Tax-payer Alliance. Can you tell us more about the transparency in regards to the Australian tax-payers’ money that the Australian governments are spending at the moment and it sparks outcry from the Australian communities, thank you.

Emilie Dye: Yes, so senator McGrath, he just released his goals for this coming Senate session, and one of his primary goals is to increase transparency about government spending and how are policymakers and are bureaucrats are using what is our money. At the Australian Tax-payers Alliance, we are petitioning for a clear expenditure transparency portal. There already is assembly of transparency portal with graphs that make it clears for the public and for journalists to see how the government spend our money, but that needs to be expanded. And right now, it's kind of the system isn't as clear as it could be. And I'm from the United States, so one thing that we have is the Congressional Budget Office which is quite nice, because they release all of these excel sheets with all the data for all the expenditures from all the government agencies. I think we need something very similar in Australia, so that people can hold our politicians accountable.

Vixay Vue: Do you think that that's in place for the public to go and have a look?

Emilie Dye: I think it's definitely the place the public to be able to see how their money is being spent or the ones that are paying taxes with ones that are voting for these people, and we need to know what we're voting for and how are money is being spent. There is $116 million each year that just goes to travel expenditures for our parliamentarians and yes in Australia.

Vixay Vue: So where can people go and find that information, we can they go straight to ATO or the Australian Tax Office and they can see what's going on there or should they go straight to each different Departments or the Australian government, so they can access this information?

Emilie Dye: Right now, it's really complicated to find that kind of information. You have to go on the various websites sometimes you have to read different sets of legislation in order to collect these numbers. We at the Australian taxpayer’s alliance have collected some of those numbers and can give information on how much parliament is being paid each year, how much it cost in a tax payer, how much is going into electoral allowances and travel expenditures, but good information is not easy to find and it should be. It shouldn't take expert to be able to navigate these government websites to find out information that should be available readily.

Vixay Vue: Do you think that as an organisation you may not have the power to enforce or to pressure the government to do so, it should come from Australian MPs, member of parliaments or senators who should look into this matter?

Emilie Dye: Yes, so senator McGrath has stated that this is one of his policy objectives this year. And we're hopeful and are supporting his work to try to open up this information to the public. It's definitely something that needs to go through parliament and there is a lot of work to do and probably a lot of on the IT side as well but it's worthwhile for the Australian people to know how their money is being spent.

Vixay Vue:  But so far as we heard or seen on TV, social media or newspapers about scandals in regard to the Australian officials travelling expenses like you mentioned, expenditure from the Australian government or oversea travel expenses for Australian Prime Ministers and recently also involving with the sports grants scandal as well, so what should we do as a community within Australia or those legislators such as MPs and senators should do in order to handle this issue properly?

Emilie Dye: Yes, so Bridget McKenzie has now resigned due to the sports rorts scandal and the hundred million misplaced funds. I think in many ways this is just the tip of the iceberg and it's a more systematic problem then just Bridget McKenzie or Ross Kelly before her, these grants are misused regularly. And yes, we caught them this time on the sports rorts, but it's a systematic problem. This information isn't clear people can't find it on government websites.  You can't just go and see okay so where these grants are going, who are these grants going to because of that, corruption happens, and people misuse funds and they misuse funds to win seats and that's not how tax payer money ever should be spent.

Vixay Vue:  Do you think that's at the Australian Auditor General supposed to pay more attention to this matter as well as the ATO or the Australian government should declare whatever they spent?

Emilie Dye: I think the exact expenditure of each of our government department should be publicised. I think we should know exactly how that money is being spent in every single Department from every single member of parliament. If they are using tax payer dollars that money that should go into a big excel sheet where anyone can look it up easily. It should go into clear charts where people can see that and find that. You shouldn't have to look at half a dozen government websites with broken links to try to figure out what the government spending money on.

Vixay Vue: As your organisation is an organisation who specifically looking into this matter, it is still very difficult for your organisation, but for ordinary Australian or anyone who is working in Australia it will be much more difficult for them to assess or to figure out what's really going on.

Emilie Dye: Exactly, this is part of my full-time job is to look up where how much money is being spent.  Normal people there’s no way that they can find that information and they can just find it instantly. Also, there's a Freedom of Information requests, they have some money and sometimes they cost a lot of money which often organisations can manage to pay for, but individuals can't, and even smaller organisations have no ability to pay repeated Freedom of Information requests, pay for those yeah.

Vixay Vue: But do you think that's it will be possible to put into legislation, so everything is transparent and everything’s out there for anyone want to check out, just want to know, want to see how much of the taxpayer’s money has been spent on?

Emilie Dye: Ah yes, I the only way to do this I think is through legislation.  and at this point, I think it's been a bit of a wakeup call with the Bridget McKenzie scandal this is the time to pass this legislation and to create a more transparent system.

Vixay Vue: Do you think that just Australia or should it includes the Five Eyes too? Do they have the system like what you mentioned here?

Emilie Dye:  Yes, other countries do have much better system for showing their people how that money is being spent.  I mean the best example I can think of is the Congressional Budget Office in the United States. They have these massive Excel sheets, and someone with borderline understanding of how Excel works can easily find this information quickly. It's all there, the numbers haven't been altered to present certain ideas or certain things.  It's not warped, it's just the raw data. And I think that's important, because a lot of the time, government officials can put the data up on a nice little pretty graph on my little pony government website and that graph can be very misleading and the layperson would look at that and think it means one thing when in reality made something very different. And so, we need the actual data so that people can back check and can hold our politicians accountable.

Vixay Vue: Do you have anything to add or to say to Australian communities or anyone who's working in Australia who pay taxes or to the Australian government?

Emilie Dye:  I estimate that it is just good work on the part of senator McGrath bringing this up and really making it one of these primary goals this year. That's important and it's good to have someone on the side of the taxpayers. As far as the multiple different government branches go, I'm hopeful that will see this kind of transparency on all levels of government, the federal government, state government and local governments.

Vixay Vue: Thank you very much for your insights share with SBS Radio Hmong Program.

Emilie Dye: Thank you so much for having me on.

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