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Tag Archives: travel allowances

In Defence of Bronwyn Bishop

Now, Bronwyn Bishop has been getting a lot of bad press lately over her decision to save time by travelling by helicopter, when a chauffeur driven limonsine would have only taken her a mere fifteen minutes longer. Some people have even been comparing her to Peter Sllipper who was charged with fraud over his trips to some wineries. While this was overturned on appeal, there is a big difference between Mr Slipper’s actions and Ms Bishop’s.

Now, let me point out the big difference. Peter Slipper was accused of knowingly falsifying the records so that his personal trips appeared to be part of his official duties. Madam Speaker, on the other hand, was simply confused. She thought attending a Liberal Party fundraiser was part of her official duties as Speaker, and that’s such an easy mistake to make. The line between official duties and party activities is often unclear. For example, as Speaker, her role involves ensuring the smooth runnng of Parliament, and the less time that’s wasted with Labor “Points of Order” or “Questions” or “Speaking Against those Running the Country”, the more efficiently Parliament can run. Of course, there have only been a handful of Coaliton MPs thrown out; they’re not the ones trying to disrupt the Government’s mandate to make the country safe, with secure borders and sound economic management. The sort of economic management that understands that time is money and while fifteen minutes may not seem like a lot to you or me, for someone as important as the Speaker, this enables her to use those fifteen minutes doing something else. Like lobbying for a new job.

Of course, the other obvious point which people seem to be deliberately ignoring, is that the helicopter ride was not simply about saving money. Had she arrived by car – even a large disco party Hummer with all the lights on and music blaring – it is possible that not everyone would have noticed. As Speaker, Ms Bishop is used to making the sort of entrance that where everybody has to pay attention, and a helicopter ensured this.

Some have suggested that Ms Bishop is not adopting sufficient distance from the Liberal Party, when the Speaker is meant to be impartial. While precedent dictates that the Speaker doesn’t attend party meeting in the interests of demonstrating this impartiality, Ms Bishop feels that this inhibits her understanding of the tactics that will be employed by the various parties, and she is happy to attend the party room meetings of any of the political parties to find out what they’re thinking. However, neither the Labor Party nor The Greens will let her in, so that only leaves the Liberals, because the Nationals don’t count – or develop tactics. And the cupboard where the Palmer United Party now meet, only has room for two.

When it’s all said and done, the events of yesterday should be the end of the matter because Ms Bishop has now paid back the money from the helicopter trip, plus a fine, even though the travel was all “within the guidelines”. Which is extremely generous of her. It seems very magnanamous of her to pay that fine when she’s done nothing wrong.

Of course, this won’t make those clamouring for her blood happy. They’ll probably just ask her to pay back the cost of her overseas trip by arguing that it was also a lot of money, and now she’s started paying back things “within the guidelines” just because someone complained about the cost, hasn’t she set a precedent for herself?

No, some people won’t be satisfied till they’ve hounded the poor woman out of the Speaker’s chair. I suspect that they’ll stop at nothing with an election coming up in September (whoops, I meant, October. and I meant next year.) I mean, the Murdoch papers won’t want her there being a distraction from all the things that Tony’s done. We’ve got the terrorist threat for that!

Some little known facts about Bronwyn Bishop:

  1. Her maiden name was “Setright”.
  2. Originally, a Senator, she moved to the House of Representatives in the hope of launching a leadership challenge, which was thwarted when she realised that she’s actually have to get some of the Liberal Party MPs to vote for her.
  3. The daughter of an Opera singer, she is an accomplished singer herself. As a lover of opera and musicals, she wanted all questions in Question Time to be put to the tunes from Gilbert and Sullivan, and was only dissuaded when she was reminded that various members of the Opposition had much better singing voices, and, as Speaker, she herself would not be allowed to sing.
  4. She was not a member of Australia’s first Parliament, and only joined after it moved to Canberra.
  5. If she hears any MPs refer to her as “Dolores” (Dolores Umbrage – a “Harry Potter” character), she makes them write out lines before they’re allowed back into Parliament.
  6. She did not copy her hairstyle from Gary Oldman’s character in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, just her wardrobe and political style.

drac 2p

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Who are the real leaners here?

While we are being told that we are are not “entitled” to anything at all, it is worthwhile to look at the “entitlements” of politicians and ask who are the real leaners here?

The base salary for a federal Member of Parliament is $195,130. This is the entry wage for a job that requires no qualifications, no experience, has no essential criteria, and no key performance targets.

There is no such thing as false advertising in the business of government. They are even protected from defamation laws when speaking in the House.

On top of their salary, politicians are given generous allowances and “entitlements”. Parliament provides these allowances to assist members and senators to carry out their duties as elected representatives in their constituencies. They can claim for legitimate “costs” of doing their work effectively and taxpayers meet the bill.

In previous times (decades ago) politicians did not have large entitlement allowances. Their travel to the parliament (federal or state) was usually arranged by the parliamentary staff (rail historically, then flights), and they may have had a small electoral office and a limited budget for mail or landline phones.

But as time went on, the range of allowances was extended to include a whole series of tangible benefits to members – including daily expenses, travel allowances, overnight accommodation, domestic and overseas travel, use of Commonwealth cars, electoral vehicles, hire cars, taxis or subsidised private vehicles. They receive an electoral allowance of between $32,000 and $46,000. If they choose not to be given an electoral vehicle they can claim another $19,500 pa. Some allowances are capped, others not.

As John Wanna explains:

“One of the problems with the present system is that there is no clear definition of what is and what isn’t “parliamentary business” or politicians exercising their rights to interact with their constituents or the wider community.

Going into a pub and shouting drinks can be a community engagement; spruiking a book you have written around the country can be communicating your message to the electorate. Buying books you are interested in owning as a reader can be seen as informing a politician.

Taking holidays to the snow or sunny climes, or visiting desirable foreign cities, can be classified under the nomenclature “parliamentary study tour” to broaden the mind. Many state politicians take regular holidays at taxpayers’ expense and put in silly half-page “report” on what they have discovered (one once remarked that sandwiches were bigger in one state he visited than his home state!).”

Barnaby Joyce’s first foreign study tour as a Senator is a prime example of the above. On the way home from a billionaire’s granddaughter’s wedding in India that he attended as a guest of Gina Rinehart, he had a one day stopover in Malaysia after which he presented a six page report summarising his findings (which could have been written by any Year 9 geography student):

•Malaysia has recently experienced high levels of economic growth which has created urban cities comparable in wealth to cities in developed countries.

•Nonetheless, economic disadvantage remains in some areas, particularly rural areas.

•A key focus for Malaysian policymakers are policies which seek to increase the economic development of rural areas through targeted approaches.

•As Malaysia becomes wealthier the potential for Australia high value exports will increase, particularly of products such as beef.

•A closer dialogue between Australian politicians and Malaysian policymakers could help to foster stronger government-to-government Malay-Australian relations.

After a private jet flew him to Malaysia, Mr Joyce claimed a $5500 flight home for him and his wife out of Kuala Lumpur. He also defended his use of another $3600 in taxpayer entitlements, used to fly him and his wife to Perth, the day before the couple boarded a private jet to Hyderabad from that city.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture Minister told Fairfax Media that Mr Joyce and his wife attended ”a range of official meetings with business people and Senate colleagues” in Perth that day, on which he also claimed $350 in travelling allowance, though she refused to say which senators or business people attended those meetings.

Barnaby Joyce, Julie Bishop and Teresa Gambaro collectively claimed more than $12,000 in ”overseas study” allowances to pay for their flights home.

Department of Finance records show Tony Abbott has used travel entitlements to take his family to AFL Grand Finals and Derby Day in Victoria.

The family trips cost taxpayers more than $10,000 in 2012 and a charter flight to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, which he attended with one of his daughters, cost $8800.

TONY ABBOTT’S ENTITLEMENTS WHEN OPPOSITION LEADER:

  • A travelling allowance, which varies between cities, for each overnight stay away from home to and from parliamentary and party business and “official business as an Opposition Office Holder”. The meaning of “official business” is not stipulated.

  • Business class airfares on “official business within Australia” for the “most reasonable and usual route between the departure and destination points”.

  • Use unlimited car transport, both chauffeured and self-drive, for “official business” anywhere in Australia.

  • A spouse is entitled to travel “anywhere in Australia for official purposes” at taxpayer expense, including business class flights. A description of “official purposes” is not provided.

  • Can claim $8889 a year in overseas fares, plus accommodation, meals, vaccinations, insurance and incidentals, including $63-a-day for minor expenses like tips and porterage. The cost of travel of one staffer and their spouse is covered, but not for children.

  • “Dependent children” are allowed three return visits to Canberra a year and additional travel with the approval of the Special Minister of State. A dependent child is under 16 and in the Opposition Leader’s care, or is aged 16-25 and is a full-time student wholly or substantially dependent upon the Opposition Leader.

Mr Abbott repaid about $1,700 he spent attending the weddings of former colleagues Sophie Mirabella and Peter Slipper though this was several hundred short of what he claimed. Apparently he was a little bit entitled? He also repaid $9,400 in taxpayer funding that was spent on travel to promote his book Battlelines in 2009, but he is standing firm on his right to claim entitlements for taking part in sporting and charity events – a decision that has cost us tens of thousands of dollars.

We spend over $100,000,000.00 a year on Parliamentarians’ entitlements – not salaries, not superannuation, not paying for past Prime Ministers and MPs – that is how much the current sitting members ask for in extras. Between July 2010 and December 2012, Tony Abbott claimed $2,731,253.50 on top of his salary, and this was in Opposition. Now he has the keys to the safe and the ability to make the rules and to appoint the people who enforce them. He can buy planes for himself and put it under whatever heading he chooses, then choose to fly whoever he wants around.

Unfortunately, Tony chooses to take businessmen and photographers with him everywhere he goes and leaves the public servants, diplomats, legal and trade experts, a shoestring budget to make their own way there if they can get approval from Peta.

“Cabinet ministers have been instructed to sign off claims for airfares and hotel bookings by public servants in a clampdown on government travel costs.

Under strict new guidelines, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ordered that all travel costing more than $20,000 must be approved by a cabinet minister.

He said that any expenses exceeding $50,000 had to be signed off by the prime minister.

All public servants’ travel costing less than $20,000 must be approved by department secretaries or agency heads.”

No cutback for the politicians, just for the people who know what they are talking about, the ones who do the real work. Mind you, the couple of public servants they are sending to climate change conferences would probably prefer NOT to go.

I have a suggestion. How about we keep the politicians at home and send the public servants instead. Seriously, what does Tony achieve when he travels overseas? He is so embarrassed he won’t even meet with anyone now except Stephen Harper. (We really need to contact our Canadian brothers and sisters and ramp up a joint campaign.)

And for those who would like to point to the wonderful contribution to belt-tightening made by the politicians in not accepting a wage rise this year, the Remuneration and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 specifically “removed the power of the Parliament to disallow parliamentary remuneration determinations made by the Tribunal.”

Not only was the decision not up to Tony, he had already been advised of it well before he announced his sacrifice.

“IT was sold as a last-minute decision by the Government to freeze wages of its Federal MPs to ensure they were hit by their own chunk of Budget pain. But that wasn’t quite right.

As it turns out, the body which sets those wages had already decided pay rates would be untouched.”

If we halved politicians’ entitlements and the number of fighter jets we are buying, canned the PPL and Direct Action, kept the carbon tax and mining tax, kept the changes to FBT on novated car leases and taxation changes on superannuation payments over $100,000 pa, got rid of Kevin Andrews marriage guidance vouchers and school chaplaincy program, stopped all the new reviews and acted on the recommendations from the ones we have already done, and created a Federal ICAC, not only would we not have to tighten our belts, we could actually move forwards rather than backwards.

If we then chose to look at closing tax loopholes and insisting that rich people pay their fair share we could start addressing poverty and income inequity. We could do something about affordable childcare and housing. We could pay decent wages to childcare and aged care workers. We could invest in research and education.

Get rid of the politicians and give a panel of single parents the budget. I have no hesitation in saying they could do a far better job of finding savings and prioritising expenditure than this mob has done.

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