Peter Phelps might have been a relatively unknown political staffer until yesterday’s revelations but Crikey readers should be familiar with the rantings of the Special Minister of State’s chief of staff.

Back in April last year Phelps got fired up over Stephen Mayne’s commentary on political donations:

Stephen Mayne complained long and loud about “what other spending in Australia is tax deductible?” in relation to donations to political parties. He seems to forget that donations to so-called “charities” are effectively unlimited. Some of these – especially those which portray themselves as environmentalists – are more than happy to take these funds and then use them on de facto political advertising. At the current time, if you give $5,000 to the Greens, you can only claim back $100 in tax. But if you give $5,000 to some bogus enviro-loony front “charity” which then uses the money on a public campaign to push exactly the same line as the Greens, then the donor can claim the whole lot back on their tax. Indeed, there was one notorious example in Tasmania where a now-quite-prominent Green was arrested. His supporters then hit the solar-powered photocopy machine and started producing flyers which strongly suggested that people should make “tax-deductible donations” to a particular environmental “charity” – which, of course, would then proceed to pay the legal bills of that prominent Green activist. So let’s have a bit of consistency in the moral outrage department. Stephen Mayne also wrote (7 April, item 3): “The standard entitlements for our political … class are business class travel within Australia but the best summary of all the benefits is not on any official departmental website because the highly secretive Finance Department provides none of these details online.” Oooh, that secret Finance! Why don’t you try looking on the Remuneration Tribunal website – Stephen would know that these guys set the travel rules – where you will find it hidden under the highly secretive and tricky name of “Parliamentarians”. — Comments, 12 April, 2006

Not once, but twice:

Yesterday, you tagged me in the corrections column as “Dr Peter Phelps, Chief of Staff to Special Minister of State Eric Abetz”. While working for Eric was great fun, he moved on to the “Fish & Chips” portfolio and I, along with the rest of the old furniture, stayed on in the SMOS office to serve the splendid Mr Gary Nairn, MP – who is also my local member of parliament. Also Ray Leung (yesterday, comments) wrote: “Politicians give themselves pay rises…”. Ah, sorry Ray, no they don’t and they haven’t done so for a number of years. The base pay of an MP is set by an independent body called the Remuneration Tribunal, which ties backbenchers to the lowest band of the Principal Executive Officer range in the Australian Public Service. In other words, their salaries are linked to senior public servants – albeit the worst paid senior public servants. Ministers and other office holders then receive and additional amounts, again determined by the Remuneration Tribunal, to account for their extra duties. It is strictly, true, that either house of Parliament could move to disallow any increase in salary, but they certainly don’t “give themselves pay rises”. In closing, as I celebrate my ten years as a staffer this month, it has been my observation over that time that people who complain about Ministers’ pay being excessive are, almost without exception, d*ckheads. If it’s so easy and so well paid, then why the don’t you run for the Federal Parliament, Mr Leung? I’m sure your limitless talent will be a beacon to the disaffected everywhere. And let’s see if you get your deposit back. — Comments, 13 April, 2006

This all led to an illuminating debate over the regulation of political funding prompted by this challenge from Mayne — “‘They rort it too’ is no defence“:

Dr Phelps next appeared in September after a strong reader response to a piece examining politicians’ salaries, his rebuttal began:

Once again the populist wing-nuts have been unleashed. After your sober and rational look at changes to MPs’ remuneration – one of the few media outlets to do so – the laughing hyenas of hysterical populism just couldn’t resist baying at the moon

He continued to rail against the inevitable reader backlash:

It’s good to see that the loony Left have refilled their tanks of froth and bile. But let’s look at some, for want of a better phrase, “inconvenient truth”. Most of the moppets who wrote in have no understanding of what MPs do in the course of their work or what MPs actually receive by way of practical remuneration. It’s just a sick recitation of incorrect facts – myths and prejudices clothed in (self-)righteous indignation. My basic point, which remains unchallenged, is this: MPs’ personal remuneration is barely adequate (and inadequate for Ministers) for the job that they do, the hours they put in, the disruption which occurs in their families and for the cr-p they have to put up with from those pig-ignorant whingers who write absolute blather in the letters section of Crikey. If it is such a good life, if the incumbents are so feckless, if it’s all so damn easy, then why don’t they run for office themselves? I’ll answer my own rhetorical question: because those who would wish the hair shirt on others seldom seek to wear it themselves. — Comments, 18 September, 2006

And left no one in any doubt whose views he was expressing:

I am not a mere cipher of my Minister, so whether he approves or disapproves of my views is irrelevant. And for the record, these are my personal views, but I feel compelled to state my position after a little “run in” with Media Watch— Comments, 19 September, 2006

Finally in April this year, Phelps, a proud Gaia-hating Ford Territory driver, explained how the Prius was made available to federal MPs in response to comments from Democrats Senator Lyn Allison about how difficult it is for MPs to get approval to use the hybrids — he signed off with:

So, perhaps, Senator Grumpy Bum might like to thank the Howard Government for actually pursuing better environmental outcomes, rather then being acting like a spoilt brat. Imagine her whinge if we didn’t give her exactly what she wanted!