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The UK experience

Tony Abbott announced a whole-scale review of the entitlements system – to be led by former head of the Department of Finance, David Tune, and the head of the remuneration tribunal, John Conde – which will aim to give “the public confidence”.

Rather than giving the public confidence, how about a genuine review of past claims.

In 2009 the Parliamentary Expenses scandal in the UK arose when MPs and members of the House of Lords were found to have systematically rorted their claims for travel and accommodation expenses. Many MPs were found to have made claims for expenses which were not “wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a Member’s parliamentary duties”.

The claims published by The Daily Telegraph ultimately covered the entire gamut of Parliament – all major parties and several minor ones, ministers (including the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, cabinet and shadow cabinet members) through to backbenchers, and members of both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. A number of members were expelled from their parties, or would not stand for re-election; some members repaid, in part or whole, sums they had previously claimed. There were also payments to the UK tax authority for taxes on possible gains or income previously not paid.

Several MPs were charged and convicted. For example:

  • Elliot Morley was sentenced to 10 months jail for dishonestly claiming over ₤30,000 (around $50000) in parliamentary expenses
  • John Taylor, Baron of Warwick was sentenced to 12 months jail for falsely claiming ₤11277 (around $20000) parliamentary expenses for travel costs
  • Jim Devine was sentenced to 16 months jail for dishonestly claiming ₤8385 (around $15200) in expenses
  • Baron Hanningfield was sentenced to 9 months jail for incorrectly claiming ₤14000 (around $25000) in travel allowances.

Almost ₤500 million was voluntarily repaid.

In a move Kathy Jackson would be proud of, Tony Blair’s expenses were shredded ‘by mistake’ when they were the subject of a legal bid to have them published.

In the wake of the scandal the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was created, intended to manage Members’ expenses at an “arm’s length” from the House, ending the historical self-policing by MPs of their expenses. The IPSA is responsible for: paying MPs’ annual salaries; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MPs’ allowances scheme; providing MPs with publicly available information relating to taxation issues; preparing the MPs’ code of conduct relating to financial interests; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs. There are now two codes of conduct for MPs to follow: a non-statutory code drawn up by the House of Commons itself; and a statutory code drawn up by the IPSA.

ImpUte lists 25 examples between August 2009 and December 2012 of Tony Abbott claiming work-related expenses totalling over $84,000 while “volunteering”, running, swimming, cycling and attending major sporting events.

The rules allow for travel allowance to be paid to Opposition Office Holders for the cost of accommodation, meals, and incidentals during overnight stays away from home when the stay is “primarily due to official business such as sittings of Parliament, parliamentary committee meetings, official business as Opposition Office Holder, or parliamentary political party meetings.”

There are many other dubious entitlement claims not included in ImpUte’s list. For example Tony Abbott and family travelled to Melbourne on the day of the F1 grand prix in 2011 and claimed over $2800 in work-related travel entitlements. Was it a coincidence he was working in Melbourne that particular day or did he travel to attend the race? On another occasion in 2011 Abbott travelled to Melbourne, participated in the Puffing Billy charity race, and received over $3000 in travel entitlements for two days. Did he just happen to be in Melbourne on work-related purposes at the time of another sports event?

Then there were the costs of his stunts – visiting a Gold Coast rubbish tip, chartered flights to outback stations to discuss live cattle exports, visiting an ice works, chartered flights to North Queensland to discuss his wild rivers private members bill, his infamous trip to Whyalla. All of these trips seem little more than a taxpayer funded backdrop for his daily media appearances.

There is no doubt that we need a tightening up of the rules but are we likely to see a review of past claims? Not a chance. Considering the UK experience, it is understandable why both sides of politics are resisting independent oversight.

 

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23 comments

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  1. roaminruin

    Abbott serving porridge? One can dream can’t one?

  2. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    Considering Abbot’s allegiance to things British, he surely could be persuaded to follow the example of the UK government investigation? Or not!

  3. Keitha Granville

    Swedish Parliamentary system – that’s what we want. Look it up.

  4. gangey1959

    It’s EASY.
    Flying anywhere should be reimbursed at the going economy rate for flight X
    Government business is cancelled out if any Personal or Party occasion takes up more of the mps time. For example, the kroger wedding/lnp fundraiser @ 4-8 hours nullifies the 15 minutes of kissing babies/photo op the next morning(govt business roflmao)
    Overnight Accomodation at a set rate per night as per Capital City $150? / Regional $100?
    The mp’s can spend more, but that is all they get reimbursed.
    Parliamentary Pensions are only paid for the number of years that member X was a member of Parliament, NOT for life, and are stopped if they take on any other position/consultancy.
    Gillian Triggs should be made our National Heroine.

  5. John Lord

    Expenses the wat they are structured in Australia have many grey areas. Their in lies the problem?

  6. Kaye Lee

    John,

    It wouldn’t be a problem for people with some ethics.

  7. David

    I smell a rat, name tag reads Abbott. Surely this failed loser is not trying to have all past thieving removed from the record., which of course includes much of his own…the the thieving bastard

  8. Southerly

    It would focus their minds when claiming expenses if a full audit of past claims were done and fraud charges layed where it couldn’t be proven that it was within the rules. A few jail terms would bring about a bit of honesty.

  9. Terry2

    The terms of reference for Mr Abbott’s “Root & Branch” enquiry into politician’s entitlements include this :

    PURPOSE
    The committee will provide options for the creation of an independent parliamentary
    entitlements system.
    In developing options for independent oversight, the committee will consider:
     Reducing ambiguity in what constitutes official business;
     Providing clarity to members of Parliament and their staff about their entitlements and
    how to use them appropriately;
     Improving transparency of the rules and entitlement usage;
     Acknowledging the role of party business in parliamentary business;
     How to deal more effectively with alleged misuse of entitlements; and
     How best to support and enable Members of Parliament to conduct their varied duties
    within clearly defined rules.

    The very odd reference to “Acknowledging the role of party business in parliamentary business” seems to be leading this enquiry into acknowledging that there is a connection between party and parliamentary business which, surely is where the problem lies.

  10. Kaye Lee

    Last December, after details of Pyne’s $30,000 European extravaganza with his wife were revealed, we heard “The Abbott government is refusing to release documents detailing the cost and purpose of overseas travel by Coalition ministers, claiming they could “cause damage to Australia’s international relations” if made public.”

    I think it is their domestic relations they should be worrying about. We have a right to know what we are paying for.

    Mr Pyne’s trip from April 23 to April 30 to the UK and Italy to “conduct a series of high-level meetings, attend ANZAC Day commemorations and represent the Government at the canonisations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII” cost us $30,661.76.

    Taxpayers were billed $1352 to “day let” a room at a swish London hotel before the minister and his wife, Carolyn, flew back to Australia on the same day. More than $2000 was spent on VIP services at Heathrow Airport for the Pynes.

    The documents revealed Mr Pyne had got around guidelines that prevent spouses being funded on overseas trips unless in certain circumstances with a special letter of approval by Mr Abbott’s chief-of-staff, that well known snow-bunny, Peta Credlin.

    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/release-of-ministerial-travel-costs-could-damage-our-international-standing-government-claims-20141207-121xca

  11. David

    Terry2…as I dont trust this lying PM further than I can spit, while I can’t see a move to have precious claims embraced by these revised terms of reference, is there small writing somewhere that we are not seeing. Can Root and Branch make recommendations over and above these that are listed.
    History screams at us, don’t trust him.

  12. Harquebus

    I wish I had read this a couple of hours ago as I would have included in this weeks bulk mail out to politicians and journalists which, I have just completed. I think I will make and exception and send this one all on its own, just to make sure that it gets some notice.
    Thanks Kaye Lee. I will spread this one far and wide for you no worries.
    Cheers.

  13. Matters Not

    Yes Terry2, the people who get to write the Terms of Reference are in a powerful position to predetermine the outcomes.

    Never hold an inquiry unless you know what the outcome will be

    Or if you prefer Yes Minister:

    A rule of government is never look into anything you don’t have to, never start an enquiry unless you know what its findings will be.

    In the US:

    Lawyers are often advised never to ask a question of a witness (on the stand in court) that the lawyer doesn’t already know the answer to.

    In short, ‘surprises’ are most unwelcome.

    And rest assured the outcomes of this Inquiry could be written in an hour or so and save a heap of money. But it’s ‘time’ they are buying. The longer the better.

  14. win jeavons

    Pigs in pokes come to mind.

  15. RoaminRuin

    The photo accompanying this story resolves the question “is Abbott circumcised?”

  16. paul walter

    That was a pungent essay and good one.

    But, can there be victimhood without entitlement?

    Or vice versa, for that matter?

  17. Anomander

    Step number one should be the removal of the Minchin Protocol, which allows members to pay back monies falsely claimed without penalty.

    Surely, we would expect that those people representing us are adults and are able to correctly determine if a claim falls within the guidelines before lodging it?

    All parliamentarians should be able to ensure the claim is correctly completed and in-line with the guidelines before lodgement. If they are incapable of basic governance procedures, they are not good enough to hold such a high position of trust.

    There should also be complete separation of “party business” and parliamentary responsibilities. They are elected as representatives of their constituents, first and foremost and it is to the voters that their allegiances should lie, before their loyalty to the party.

    Party meetings and fundraisers are NOT for the benefit of the people and their role representating the people, and are therefore excluded.

    Clear rules are needed to define exactly what is claimable and what is not. While I applaud the initiative, I dont’ see riding a bike as an essential skill for my representative and not an effective use of his time.

    All claims should be open, transparent and timely. Impose deadlines. No late submissions, and each should be subject to public scrutiny through an on-line search.

    Finally, a full audit of past claims and any found to be outside the rules, referred to the DPP for possible fraud charges.

    They keep telling us we have to tighten our belts, that we need to rein in expenditure and help the budget bottom-line. Well, the action can start with them leading the way.

  18. crypt0

    Sophie Mirabella’s wedding must have been a major get-together for many of Australia’s most notable leaners !
    And as Kaye Lee pointed out … None of this expense thing has to be that difficult, on one proviso …
    It wouldn’t be a problem for people with some ethics.

  19. j marsh

    Gangey I like your solution simple not east to rort!

  20. jimhaz

    “primarily due to official business such as sittings of Parliament, parliamentary committee meetings, official business as Opposition Office Holder, or parliamentary political party meetings.”

    This statement would be adequately clear if we we talking about a policy for public servants. Note “primarily” means the bulk of ones time, the real purpose of the travel….and that the examples quoted are clearly of primary and core business nature.

    It would be easy enough to add examples as what is acceptable and what is not. You could almost guarantee that more than one public servant dealing with the claims had written out such examples but were told to not include them by either sycophants or directly by vested interest MPs.

    The trick is to stop the setting up of false meetings with supporters at the time of the personal interest event they really are travelling for, as that is what they will do. Only formal multi-person or open meetings should be allowed. They would need to provide clear reasons why video conferencing was not acceptable or why they did not fly back the same day or limits on the number of days of overstaying allowed etc.

    As for fund raisers….the organisers will simply have to pay from the funds obtained. It is not as if the main parties need any more money – they don’t other than for the electioneering arms race, specifically TV ads – which are so frequent across all channels that one has to view it as corruptly providing taxpayer funds to the MSM for support.

  21. Geoff Andrews

    Spot on Anomander (7.30am today), particularly the excluding of party business from entitlements (the age of which is apparently over) and spouses’ expenses.
    The breaking story today about Tony Burke’s fully funded trip to Uluru with wife & kids during a school holiday could be examined, along with Bronny’s helicopter ride, to try to determine to what extent a guilty mind existed as each hand came out of the till and into the pocket. If they knew it was wrong, a crime has been committed.
    Is there no member or senator untainted?
    Perhaps we should challenge each party to nominate at least two members who’s expense accounts could bear close scrutiny without embarrassment. These members would make excellent members of a Royal Commission into the rorts or at least draw up a set of unambiguous guidelines.
    Anyhow, it’s time to appoint an independent Speaker from outside parliament to bring order to the kindergarten.

  22. Bronte ALLAN

    “Root & Branch” (?) enquiry? WTF?? What MUST happen is that ALL politicians “entitlements/rorts should be audited, probably most of them could then be eliminated, & ALL politicians claims for, say, the last 10 years or so should be audited, & where needed, appropriate penalties should be instituted against any politician falsely or misleadingly claiming for “entitlements” etc they should not have been claiming for! The same “enquiry” should also be instigated to determine why the politicians salary revue “system” always automatically awards the lot of them obscene pay rises, which they ALL accept! If they were all made to “justify” any or all wages claims etc, like most workers have to do with the EBA system, perhaps then we would see no rises, or maybe miniscule amount rises, like the workers get? This country can ill afford to have the PM granted a salary much higher than most (if not all) other Countries leaders’ get! The same with the rest of our politicians, who are also (it seems), granted much higher salaries than their overseas counterparts!

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