Former Tasmanian Liberal leader Bob Cheek’s new book, Cheeky: Confessions of a Ferret Salesman,
is stirring up controversy in the Apple Isle and even has current
opposition leader Rene Hidding issuing legal threats. In extracts
published in last weekend’s Sunday Tasmanian, Cheek lifts the
lid on political perks – as he writes: “…members get high on the
tantalising fringe benefit drugs available. And, yes, I wasn’t averse
to sampling free lollies from the pollies’ bottomless jar…”

Here are Cheek’s top ways to rip off the Tassie taxpayer:

The most astounding rort in Parliament was the yearly $5,000 “equipment
allowance” given to each MP. This fund was set up to allow politicians
to buy or upgrade office equipment but in reality the allowance is too
generous and, come the end of June, parliamentarians struggle to find
legitimate items to spend the windfall on. So, they become very
creative and we find it going towards furnishing the family home – TV
sets, refrigerators, lounge suites etc. “It was like a $5,000 wedding
present every year.”

Free grog:
Being elected to
Parliament means you’ll have free alcohol for the rest of your
political life. The top politicians get free booze for their offices –
for party leaders it’s unlimited. So after work, MPs go to their
leader’s fridge and help themselves. Not only that, they take it away
to their own offices or even to their own homes for entertaining. “It’s
an unwritten law that nobody pays for grog.”

Pretend meetings:
MPs receive an electoral allowance depending on the size of their
electorate, mainly for travelling expenses. They can also claim direct
expenses for travelling, accommodation and meals when attending PLP
meetings (meetings of Parliamentary Liberal Party members) around the
state. So, if you want free accommodation or entertainment you need to
organise a PLP meeting the next morning so you can claim everything
from the taxpayers. “Many of these party meetings last about 15 seconds
or less and are attended by one or two people. It doesn’t really matter
because there’s no quorum stipulated…”

A golden ticket:
The oldest weapon in the parliamentary expense arsenal is the gold rail
pass. These valuable (upwards of $500 depending on the current bullion
price) solid gold medallions are given to every member of Parliament
when they’re elected. Naturally, these relics of the past had some
relevance when rail travel was the main mode of transport around the
country. “Now they’re collector’s items….” The gold rail pass is also
accepted for entry into the members’ area of the MCG and other sporting
venues around Australia.

Free dinner:
The best and
cheapest restaurant in town for politicians is Government House. “I’m a
republic supporter but I unashamedly went to countless dinners at
Hobart’s best restaurant … I tell you what, it sure beats McDonald’s.”

Free money:Most
politicians, apart from ministers, are seconded to sit on parliamentary
committees, such as the Public Accounts Committee or Subordinate
Legislation Committee. They occur mostly during breaks on sitting days
and often the meetings only last a few minutes; a token gesture.
Amazingly, pollies get paid an extra $90 or so (0.12% of base salary
for the chairman and 0.10% for the members) on top of their
parliamentary salary to attend. “This is double-dipping at its best.”

Trip Lotto:Amongst
the most highly-prized overseas travel perks is the kaleidoscope of
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) seminars, conferences and
study tours. “These yearly jackpots are like winning Tattslotto –
except in this case everybody’s marble comes up at some stage…”

And a couple of old favourites that have now been cut off:

Family fun:
$3,000 a year for overseas “study” trips – plus an additional $3,000
for the family – used on blatant family holidays … “interrupted by
the inconvenience of a token one-hour visit to some obscure Third World
parliament house or government office to justify the trip, before
relaxing on a palm-fringed island or skifield…” The family allowance
was withdrawn after Pembroke McKay rorted the system by sending his
kids on a school skiiing holiday he didn’t even attend. “The system is
still be rorted – but at least just by the politicians and not their
families as well.”

Phone-a-kid: MPs used to have their
home phone bill paid in full – no questions asked. In 1991, “an
eccentric former Member for Lyons,” ran up a $4,327 private phone bill
using three Telecom telecards because his kids were overseas. So the
“dreaded Pembroke-inspired tribunal” ruled that members had to actually
identify which of their home phone calls were legitimate electorate
business calls.