The Subtle Art of Knowing What You Own

How hard is it to declare property on the Register of Senators’ Interests?

I don’t mean that rhetorically. I genuinely want to know. Is it insanely difficult? Is there a particular trick to it that takes years of painstaking practice to master? Does it require unusual feats of lateral thinking or leaps of logic to find the key to a timely and proper declaration?

I ask because it seems like declaring one’s pecuniary interests, as a member of parliament, means entering a bewildering labyrinth of arcane knowledge and insurmountable obstacles, far beyond the capability of the average mortal.

Labor Senator David Feeney failed to disclose a $2.3 million property. That’s quite a lot of money in some estimations. Almost everyone I know can answer the question, “Do you own a $2.3 million property?” with a degree of confidence approaching near-certainty. I myself am 87 percent sure that I do not own such a property, but then I’m almost as sure that I’m not a Senator, and therefore I am not faced with the pate-addling ordeal of Register declarations that Feeney had to cope with. It’s not surprising, faced with the dizzying complexities of the Register, that Feeney forgot what properties he owned and whether they were negatively geared and which party he belonged to and how to brush his hair.

And now it has been revealed Greens leader Richard Di Natale also once fell under the Register of Senators’ Interests’ eldritch spell, having forgotten to declare a farm that he owned in 2011. Ancient history, you say? Yes, and very uninteresting history, too. But that’s not the point.

Artist’s impression of Senator Di Natale’s forgettable farm

I don’t care whether Richard Di Natale put his farm on the register, and you don’t care whether Richard Di Natale put his farm on the register (and no, I don’t care that he paid an au pair $150 a week either, because if you can find a job where your housing and food are all completely paid for, you’re swimming in gravy already). And I don’t much care whether David Feeney declared his insanely expensive Northcote money pit either. Pretty much every member of parliament, present and past, has done worse things than this on a weekly basis during their career — at least, if you judge politicians’ actions on their impact on the people they represent rather than diligent form-filling.

The point isn’t that when politicians fail to declare their properties, they’re doing anything utterly reprehensible — at worst it falls under the heading of “a touch shady”. The point is that these rules exist, they do exist for a reason, and everyone knows about them going into the job.

So if a man like Richard Di Natale can present himself to the public eye as a man who boasts not only unimpeachable integrity and commitment to public service, but also a keen mind, impressive leadership skills, and the sort of slick professional charm that promises to drive his party further into the traditional territory of the majors…if a man can dedicate himself so commendably to filling that role successfully, but still be able to put his entire career and hopes of spearheading the 21st century progressive movement in jeopardy because of an unexpected inability to declare a farm — an entity conventionally thought of as hard to overlook — on the register…

Then that task must be a fiendishly difficult one.

So tell me: how hard is it? And is there any chance we can simplify the process to make it a little bit easier and save us the trouble of this brain-itching idiocy taking up time that could, conceivably, be taken up by matters of, if not importance, at least mild interest, next time?

Any chance at all?

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