Federal Human Services Minister Joe Hockey has
been forced to defend the extra 25 grand provided to MPs for mailouts this
morning on Channel Seven – but another pre-election perk is getting overlooked.

Special Minister of State Gary Nairn has written to MPs increasing
their relief staff budget at a cost of around $1.4 million a year for all MPs.
“Commencing in the 2006-2007 financial year, your annual Relief Staff Budget
(RSB) will be increased to fifty (50) days’ salary at the base point of the
Electorate Officer B classification (currently $47,542 per annum) per
Electorate Officer position,” the letter reads.

Relief staff famously aren’t used as relief
staff. They’re used on special projects and at times of peak demand. And
because their contracts are often short term and acutely political, the jobs
are usually given as rewards to faction hacks.

Labor and the minor parties benefit from
the measure too, of course – but like the increased printing allowance, it
helps incumbents more.

It’s a sign that the Government’s internal
polling is telling them what the public polls are saying – that 12 months out
from an election they need all the help they can get.

And there’s another sign, too – one that’s
unlikely to put in writing. Crikey understands that Government staff
have been told to watch their travel.

Somebody obviously doesn’t want any
scandals – or accusations of extravagance – on this front.