Electoral Business or Funny Business
By Terence Mills
The nagging question of politician’s expenses constantly raises its head with still no clear understanding of what is legitimate ‘electoral business’ and what is a personal frolic or a party knees-up. What we need is an arbiter on political expenses, a person who settles a dispute or has ultimate authority in the matter. I know who that person should be, she makes these sorts of determinations on a daily basis already. I am of course talking about my wife and life-partner.
I first became aware of this latent talent when Bronwyn Bishop chartered a helicopter to take an 80-kilometre flight from Melbourne to a golf course near Geelong for a Liberal Party fundraiser. Instantly my wife was quite emphatic and unequivocal that this was either a personal expense or a Liberal Party expense but in no sense did it warrant you and me digging into our wallets to fund this jolly. Whilst Bronwyn ducked and weaved and prevaricated for some weeks before reluctantly paying back the money she still maintained that it was quite legitimate for us to pay and that obstinacy eventually pushed her out of the job as Speaker and ultimately out of politics: a quick phone call to my wife would have sorted this out on day one.
Recently it was revealed that newly elected Deputy Nationals leader and gun-lover, Bridget McKenzie charged taxpayers $2279.67 for an overnight trip from Melbourne to Sydney to attend a knees-up for the Shooting Australia Awards of Excellence in February this year. She claims this as electoral business even though she is a Senator for Victoria. Senator McKenzie charged $1611.12 for business class flights, $268.55 for official cars and $400 for her overnight travel allowance. She classed the trip as electorate business which could imply that she wouldn’t have gone otherwise but I think we know different.
According to Senator McKenzie the travel was justified because of her role as chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting group – but parliamentary friendship groups like the Tony Abbott Funny Walks group and the Peter Dutton water-boarding for beginners group are informal bodies that do not come with any public spending entitlements.
Instantly, when my wife was apprised of this situation she determined that this was a personal frolic and in no way did the parliament, the Victorian electorate or the Australian nation gain any perceivable benefit from this event and accordingly my wife determined this to be one that Bridget would have to cough for.
A little more scrutiny was required to sort out what was going on when Gina Rinehart flew Barnaby Joyce, Julie Bishop and Teresa Gambaro to Hyderabad in India in her private jet. This was to celebrate the wedding of a grand daughter of G.V. Krishna Reddy a gentleman with whom Mrs Rinehart was about to clinch a $1 billion coal deal. This group of pollies collectively claimed more than $12,000 in “overseas study” allowances to pay for flights home. After flying in a private jet from Hyderabad to Malaysia, Mr Joyce claimed a $5500 flight home for him and his wife from Kuala Lumpur.
“My study period in this country was only of one day’s duration,” Mr Joyce wrote in an obligatory report about his study tour, “but it was of great assistance in familiarising myself with Malaysia”.
After much consideration my wife determined that the purpose of the trip to India had been for a wedding knees-up which has nothing to do with the governance of Australia and Mr Joyce’s study trip to Malaysia was a red-herring and he could have gleaned ample information about Malaysia from a simple Google search. Thus, this was a personal expense to be born by the Joyce family and personally by the others and not by you and me.
The case of then Health Minister Sussan Ley was very quickly sorted by my wife on day one. Sussan had been scuttling up to the Gold Coast on a regular basis to view real estate and ultimately bought an $800,000 apartment, as you do.
Without missing a beat my wife called out from the kitchen “where’s her electorate?” When I told her it was Farrer in New South Wales, it was a slam-dunk. As my wife pointed out, when we visited Tasmania to have a holiday and check out the local eateries “did we ask Mr & Mrs Aussie Battler to pay for the trip? Of course we didn’t”.
After much obfuscation Sussan eventually conceded that she made an “error of judgment” by charging taxpayers for the Gold Coast trips and she eventually refunded costs incurred on the four taxpayer-funded trips. She said that her decision followed a conversation with the Prime Minister in which he said she had not met the standards he expects of ministers. My wife pointed out that a quick phone call to her would have sorted the matter without all the associated nastiness. It has also been noted by my wife that the PM’s standards he expects of ministers has reached rock-bottom and may have been scrapped entirely after Michaelia Cash was engaged in deception and dodgy doings turning the AFP surprise search of AWU headquarters into a media event out-rating The Block.
My wife has serious concerns about the costs to the taxpayer of what is known as the annual pollie pedal a charity event that has cost us almost $10,000 in flight and travel expenses for Tony Abbott and some of his coalition mates to go on a bike ride. In 2014 Kevin Andrews and the member for the electorate of Parkes, Mark Coulton claimed $4,603 between them for the duration of the ride. Andrews also claimed flights to and from Sydney at the start and end of the ride, and Andrews’ wife also flew in to Sydney at taxpayer expense at the beginning and end of the ride.
My wife quickly points out that if she is out volunteering or collecting for a charity appeal she doesn’t expect some sugar-daddy (also known as the Australian taxpayer) to pick up her expenses or pay for her lunch. She would be telling these biking buddies quick-smart that they need to fund these capers out of their generous parliamentary salaries.
As a generous gesture my wife has agreed to accept phone calls and texts from politicians, who are having trouble working out who should pay for their holidays, their lunch or their Christmas shopping. She will be available at the local Westfield where she gets free WiFi between nine a.m. and noon on weekdays. We will naturally expect reimbursement of expenses for providing these services and there will of course be the mandatory study trip. This will probably involve a visit to Bali for the purposes of studying volcanic activity on that island: it will probably take about ten days in July and will require business class travel, five star accommodation and other perks which fall within the category of parliamentary entitlements – Barnaby has promised to give us some tips on that.
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Hmmmm … try eating a leftover dinner roll in the eatery you work at for next nothing after service is over and see what happens to you. The rules, and the penalties, need a spot of rejigging imho. Mrs Mills is admirably insightful.
This is often an overlooked matter, which in some cases amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars for each of the top politicians even former PM Abbott still racks up plenty in travel which of course is paid for by us. There needs to be a framework put around these expenses, and a limit placed upon them.
If one tried on this nonsense with the Taxation Department, we would be hit with a fine.
Seems to me, what’s good for the Goose, (and there are many of them) should be good for the gander.
If these so called “representatives” can’t distinguish between electoral matters and personal jollies, your wife could well start a consulting business.
So Barnaby brought his wife home from KL at our expense. Such confusion.
Speaking of the honourable member for new england, it is being bandied about in the media (so it must be true) that Joyce is very very very keen to secure Infrastructure in the cabinet rescuffle…. it was mentioned that he has a keen interest in progressing the inland rail project…….
Gold Terence! Pure gold!