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.