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I know, we’ll have another review

Every time a politician’s expense scandal breaks, we hear the same response as the tax avoiders use – “I did nothing wrong, it was within the rules.” If that doesn’t go well in the media, pay it back. If the public is still antsy, announce a review of entitlements.

In August last year, in response to Choppergate, Tony Abbott announced our fifth inquiry into parliamentary entitlements in six years. The review, co-chaired by former finance secretary David Tune and the head of the Remuneration Tribunal John Conde, follows the Belcher Review, the Williams Review, and two lengthy Auditor-General reports. It is expected to report back by July this year.

How big does the rule book have to be for politicians to understand that charging the taxpayer to visit a gold mine you have shares in, or to buy an investment property, or to charter a helicopter to avoid a one hour drive to a party fundraiser, or to hire limousines to take you to the Opera, or to pay off your wife’s mortgage, is wrong?

If you are given free tickets to sporting and cultural events, surely you could pay for your own way there and accommodation should you choose to go? Are we really employing them to go and watch the rugby? Julie Bishop’s calendar has, in the past, borne a striking resemblance to where the West Coast Eagles were playing.

Former Liberal leader John Hewson made a point of taking taxis to most destinations, instead of using the chauffeur-driven Commonwealth cars that were at his disposal. And he insisted his staff do the same, but his colleagues weren’t happy.

“The cost of Commonwealth cars was multiple that of standard taxi fares. I saved the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars by doing that. But so many of my colleagues took me to task because they saw it might erode their benefits; they were worried someone might think this was a good idea and apply it to everybody.”

We have the ridiculous situation of politicians quickly having their photo taken somewhere so they can claim expenses for flying interstate for a birthday party, or overseas for a wedding.

Even when the business is quasi-legitimate, do we really need thousands of photos of politicians with shovels in hand? Couldn’t local members cover that when they are in their electorate? After all, the House of Reps is only sitting for 68 days in 2016, and they are not even obliged to turn up as shown by the vacant Opposition benches when Julia Gillard was introducing the NDIS legislation or the lack of any Coalition Senators at yesterday’s Senate Committee meeting with Indigenous health experts.

And then there are the family reunions where we see Joe Hockey waving his family goodbye from the family home in Sydney as they flew off to Perth where he was to join them for a family reunion a couple of days later. In the past five years, Australian taxpayers have spent $7.5 million flying the families of politicians around the country, including $1.04 million in the last six months of 2014, straight after Joe Hockey’s budget from hell.

Peter Dutton alone has spent $140,000 for his family to fly business class, mostly between Brisbane and Canberra, over the past five years.

Federal MP travel entitlements jumped 17% to $35.4 million in 2014, a $5 million increase on 2013, an election year.

If I claim a deduction for publications on my tax, they have to be work related. The list of publications that politicians expect us to pay for are usually anything but, and sometimes quite disturbing.

The last independent review of the system recommended banning the practice of claiming expenses for printing and communications entitlements during election campaigns. This was ignored with politicians across party lines spending more than $19 million of taxpayer money on the entitlement during the past two federal election campaigns. I don’t really want my taxes spent on their junk mail job applications.

On Q&A on Monday night, when discussing the Stuart Robert case, conservative commentator Mark Steyn, said

“I want to be governed by honourable men and honourable women.”

Sadly, our current crop of politicians seems more focused on how they can scam the system for their personal benefit than on honour, integrity and altruistic service to the public.


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  1. John Kelly

    Apart from the events that politicians claim for, I am staggered at the actual costs involved. It seems to me that politicians expense claims are far greater than an ordinary person would pay for the same thing.

  2. Rossleigh

    I’ve often thought that the best way to deal with politicians’ expenses would be to attach an expense account to their salary based on an average with some extra for those who have geographical large electorates. If they fail to use it all, then they can keep it for next year, and when they leave Parliament, they can keep any unused part. I suspect that there’d be fewer private jet or helicopter trips.
    If there’s an unusual need for an expense, such as overseas travel then that should be approved by Parliament and paid for if it’s deemed appropriate for that person to attend.

  3. Lee

    Why are politicians allowed to keep the gifts, such as free tickets to sporting events? I work in the pubic service. We’re not allowed to accept gifts. Suppliers used to give us little freebies, such as diaries and pens. Those are not allowed any more. We’re installing a new IT system at the moment. Last year the company arranged for a big bash presentation of their software package at one of the city’s poshest hotels. Our CEO made them move it onto the hospital campus and remove the free lunch. We’re not allowed to do anything that may be interpreted as favouring some suppliers or groups over others. The same rules should apply to politicians.

  4. z

    the system were designed and built through politicians to use to maxim their benefit, then everything they’ve done in the rule

  5. gangey1959

    Thank you Kaye Lee. Our politicians should be paid a salary, plus maybe 10% expenses, by “We the People”.
    (And the salary should not be anything like what it is now. I mean, if Mr Obama gets a measly $100 thosand as the so called leader of the free world there is no way in hell that the pm of Australia is worth half a million bucks. Not until they show some bottle anyway)
    So getting back onto my original soap-box.
    Pay the useless self serving bastards (in the main, but there are a few good ones.) a salary + 10%, and let their respective “fundraising organisations” pick up the tab on any(EVERY)thing else. At least that way “We the People” would be fully aware of who is really pulling whos strings, and we would be funding far fewer family vacations, or ms bitchop’s trips to the footy.
    On that note, if I ever get to fly business class, I’ll be buggered if I’m going to have my experience ruined by some spoilt little snot-nosed politicians kid that I’m paying for too. Stuff that, the little bastard will end up flying baggage class with it’s parent(s), bad back or not.

  6. Kaye Lee

    George Christensen’s taxpayer-funded book purchases over the six months to June 2015 include No, We Can’t: Radical Islam, Militant Secularism; While Europe Slept: How Racial Islam is Destroying the West from Within; The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror; and The Islamist Phoenix.

    Mr Christensen described the purchases as: “Essential policy research given the current national security situation.” I would have thought briefings from our intelligence agencies and defence forces might be more useful.

    Mr Christensen also bought books such as How to Be a Conservative and A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism.

    He also spent $5127 on Australian flags.

    Western Australian Liberal MP Ian Goodenough spent $2377 on books including copies of Anne of Green Gables, Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Moby Dick.

    Tasmanian Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic spent more than $1600 buying 150 copies of a book written by his staffer Julian Burgess.

    NSW Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm, who has described Australia as a “nation of victims” because of the government’s tough stance on gun control, spent $65 on Guns Australia. He also splashed $59 on Australian Motorcycle News.

  7. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Announcing another review is code for ‘We, politicians, are playing for time so we can rort as many expense claims, as we can before a decision is made.’

    We also want to see the expense claim register to be analysed and assessed like the tax dept decides, if something is tax-deductible. I would love to see Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and all other politicians whatever their party, to be made to repay their exorbitant expense claims, especially where tied to family and attendances at friends’ events.

    That would boost the economy – and reduce cynicism in the community about the usefulness of the politicians.

    {I know, I know. Gangey said it better! :)}

  8. Douglas Pye

    John Kelly hits the nail squarely : … ” Apart from the events that politicians claim for, I am staggered at the actual costs involved. It seems to me that politicians expense claims are far greater than an ordinary person would pay for the same thing.

    The glaring fact is that these ‘ representatives ‘ are, in the main, NOT Ordinary People! … a significant percentage have been ‘ groomed ‘ through working in serving politicians offices!! …Cast in the mould!… with little (or no) real life experience! …

    Is it time we woke up to the fact that Politics is NOT a PROFESSION, as such? … Need I mention that Ben Chifley was a train driver who dealt with World War 2 …? …

    The Australian Political System has been bastardised by Factionalism … cleverly exploited to Divide … so as to conquer? … worthy of thought?…

  9. Ross in Gippsland

    Politicians rorting the system has become almost a weekly event.

    We the public hold our politicians in so little regard that a rorting scandal holds little real interest anymore, just a tut tut, typical, shake of the head, what’s the cricket score.

    These “reviews” mean nothing, we all know that. A time wasting exercise with no enforceable outcome.

    Electronic expense reports are really easy, filled out, submitted with receipts, checked by the boss (or a bigger boss if the expense goes over a set figure), yay or nay.

    A couple of sacking for false claims keeps everyone on the straight and narrow.

    Everyone but politicians that is, are they really that thick and so intent on claiming every last cent?

    You often have to wonder do they really pay the money back when caught out.

  10. Ronson Dalby

    Simple solution that will actually solve many problems and eventually improve the living standards of all Australians: All federal and state MP’s and their families have to use public education, public hospitals, public transport and so on while they hold office …..

  11. Diane

    I’m not sure what it means when an African politician is looking less corrupt than an Australian politician, but I really like the look of the new President of Tanzania – Dr Magufuli. He’s not been in power long but in his first 100 days in office….

    He banned all but essential foreign travels by public servants – any government business in foreign countries would be handled by ambassadors. He also restricted first class and business class tickets to the President, Vice President and Prime Minister. Ministers and CEOs of State agencies would use economy tickets together with the masses.

    He slashed the budget for his inaugural cocktail party from Sh250 million to Sh15 million and directed that the rest of the money from the budget be spent on purchasing beds for the Muhimbili National Hospital.

    He ordered the cancellation of meetings and conferences in hotels for public servants. They would now use board rooms in their offices.

    He scrapped Independence Day celebrations, annually held on December 9, and directed that the money set for the usually colourful event be spent on the expansion of a road between Mwenge and Morocco.

    During the 100 days, a crackdown on tax evasion and corruption at the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) and Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA)raised a whopping Sh1.4 trillion.

    Source: http://allafrica.com/stories/201602110836.html

    Also see: http://www.theguardian.com/world/201…gufuli-twitter

  12. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    Dr Magufuli, new President of Tanzania sounds like a proper leader.

  13. diannaart

    Not so much to do with rorting – just waste.

    Every time there is a change of government; out goes all the stationary and in with the new letterheads – this happens faster than any other PS activity. Would love to know how much this costs, particularly given the rate of turnover of Prime Minsters we’ve had lately.

    The only time I got a ‘freebee’ was lunches with building contractor and architect when converting dingy little bedsitters into quite lovely one bedroom flats. The improve in the lives of the people with extra space was wonderful to see. BTW I only scored a free lunch twice – but it was memorable because it was part of a really good thing the state government achieved for elderly and disabled public housing tenants a long time ago, the men I was working with were wonderful and I felt I was actually achieving something.

    As Lee stated, we were not allowed to accept any gifts – of course that just the lower echelon of public servants.

  14. Jan Dobson

    Okay, bit nervous writing this, but I’m not sure I totally agree with some of the article and the tenor of some of the comments.

    Let’s be clear, I’m not discussing the obvious rorting such as the Geelong helicopter flight. Although even then I would separate rorting (using the system improperly) from corruption (accepting benefits to act on behalf of the contributor). I take considerable exception to such acts and the improperly cosy relationship some of our politicians have with political donors. And just for clarity, I’m a swing voter who usually (and definitely for the last few years when the centre moved) leans to the left.

    I don’t, however, necessarily disapprove of some buffering for politicians. For the majority, who genuinely if often erroneously, believe they are leading us down the right path, political life is long hours and hard work. If for example, you’re on a plane, surely it is both easier to work and more security conscious to fly in business class and access the lounges? Does it matter if, having a personal event in another city to attend, the politicians work their schedules so that another (genuine) work related meeting occurs consecutively? And for those who are so often away from their families, does sharing a room or tickets with a family member really matter? As for salaries, do we really want American style politics? or monkeys?

    Ms Lee is 100% spot on. We don’t want another toothless review on political entitlements but neither do we want to discourage all but the very wealthy, who can afford their own ‘luxuries’, from entering politics. A clearer version of the current system, yes. But frugality has it’s own drawbacks. Better to ensure our politicians understand the ‘real world’ and ‘political exigencies’ so as to have a better quality of politicians of all persuasions.

  15. Lee

    “Every time there is a change of government; out goes all the stationary and in with the new letterheads – this happens faster than any other PS activity. Would love to know how much this costs, particularly given the rate of turnover of Prime Minsters we’ve had lately.”

    That isn’t the half of it. Look at all the government departments that change their names every few years.

  16. diannaart

    Right on, Lee.

    The waste from some higher-up trying to justify themselves by making change for the sake of it. There is stuff I wish I didn’t know…

  17. Kaye Lee


    I agree it would be hard to put a specific limit on expenses. I also do not mind politicians travelling business class on long flights. I see no need for us to pay for business class for their children for a flight that takes less than two hours. I think they charter flights far too often instead of organising their schedule to use commercial flights where they are available. There are far too many unnecessary flights purely for photo opportunities and, as mentioned, at very high prices. Teleconferencing should be used a lot more.

    As far as the very high salary is concerned, I don’t feel it has necessarily attracted people of quality. I think there are quite a few there right now who would be hard pressed to find another job.

    I have no problem with genuine work-related expenses but am disturbed by the excess like hosting $50,000 dinners in the US. They should be exemplars. The message this behaviour sends is get away with whatever you can.

  18. win jeavons

    Professional and politician should never be in the same sentence unless the word behaviour immediately follows ‘ professional’ We need modest visionaries with ears tuned to their ordinary electors.

  19. Lawrence S. Roberts

    The Gravy-Train wont stop until an ICAC with teeth is established for The Canberra Creeps, Spivs and Pimps.
    A thinking and listening political party could almost get elected by promising to clean it up. When all decisions are decided by re-electability to stay on The Gravy-Train would any one bother except Senate rebels.

  20. Wen

    If anyone actually knew the level of waste via the ‘ expenses’ of politicians we would all be even more horrified. I am yet to be convinced of any politician needing to fly first class anywhere, let alone short trips. Their families should only be allowed to fly cattle class like the rest of us who are actually paying for their fare, maybe then they won’t be so keen to fly relentlessly around the country. The excuse that they don’t see their family doesn’t wash, well sorry but they were more than aware of that before they entered the hallowed halls of power and first class travel. I worked for the Public Service in a role that required a hideous amount of travel and it was cattle class all the way with no recompense for family left at home. It always makes me laugh when politicians have to travel with public servants the politicians get to stay in rather nice hotels while the public servants are in a dive down the road, good for some it appears.

  21. Kaye Lee

    Probably the most compelling argument for Malcolm to curtail his overseas jaunts is it leaves Barnaby to answer the phone. (Wonder how he is feeling with Whyalla, who survived the carbon tax quite nicely, looking like being ‘wiped off the map’ under Coalition leadership. He really is a silly man)

  22. June M Bullivant OAM

    Morrison is now talking about cuts to spending, the pollies entitlements are spent without a limit, that is a very good place to start.

  23. alaiya81

    Could you clarify this part please: ” After all, the House of Reps is only sitting for 68 days in 2016, and they are not even obliged to turn up as shown by the vacant Opposition benches when Julia Gillard was introducing the NDIS legislation or ***the lack of any Coalition Senators at yesterday’s Senate Committee meeting with Indigenous health experts.***”

    The picture was shared in a group I am in, and a bit of a discussion sprang up – we found the list of members of the Senate Select Committee on Health. There’s rather a lot of them – so who were the four pictured there and were they in fact the only ones there? If so, that’s pretty shabby considering there’s a final report due in mid-June. If they’re being paid, they should be there…all of them, no matter the party affiliation.

    TIA if you can help us out as we cannot find the info.

  24. Kaye Lee

    Senator O’Neill and Senator McLucas are the two women present. Doug Cameron joined them via video-link. It was Stephen Jones who tweeted that no Coalition Senators turned up.

    I can’t tell who the chair is but it should tell you on the committee list (unless they too were away)

  25. Kaye Lee

    I would like to, at this stage, express my admiration for Deb O’Neill who is one of the most hardworking Senators in the place. She is on several committees, always turns up well prepared, doesn’t engage in theatrics…just gets the job done. She was the member for Robertson in the HoR and was beaten by Lucy Wicks who was a captain’s pick by Tony Abbott and parachuted into the electorate bypassing the locally endorsed (and well respected) candidate. The Labor Party, recognising her value, appointed Ms O’Neill to fill the vacancy left by Bob Carr’s retirement. Lucy Wicks is a regurgitator of the party line uncritically passing on all the propaganda. If you ask legitimate questions, she, like so many other Coalition MPs, bans you. They exist in an echo chamber.

    Deb O’Neill is worth ten of Lucy Wicks and she is greatly missed as a local member but should be commended for her quiet diligence in the Senate.

  26. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks Kaye and alaiya81,

    for reminding me of that point. I don’t see why every MP in the House of Reps or the Senate isn’t obliged to be in attendance at every Senate Committee and parliamentary duty. Teachers must attend all classes; lawyers must represent each client as they become available; taxi drivers must take each passenger as they reach the top of the queue, except under extreme circumstances like driver sickness or passenger bad conduct.

    Since those particular politicians failed to undertake their parliamentary duties, they should be fined and exposed in parliament so that it is recorded in Hansard. That would get them moving and participating in parliamentary discussion again about all policies and processes.

    It is highly offensive that the LNP senators insulted the Indigenous health experts by not bothering to be there, as it was when Gillard introduced the NDIS in the House of Reps.

  27. Kaye Lee

    And let’s not forget Peter Dutton (and others) walking out on Kevin Rudd’s Apology.

  28. alaiya81

    Thank you so much! I would be very interested to know why other members of any party affiliation did not attend. Disappointing.

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