Politicians in the UK have really done themselves over with their well-reported rorting (see Crikey‘s compilation here) of Westminster’s extraordinarily generous expenses system. There’s now nowhere to hide from the wrath of British voters, and nor should there be.

The logical conclusion of many Australians, both in the media and in the community, is that Australia’s MPs must be just as bad. We all hate politicians, after all. News Ltd tabloids have today been trying to compare allowances MPs get for travelling to Canberra with the funding of second mortgages and moat renovations uncovered in the UK.

Senior MPs and Ministers have to spend a lot of time in Canberra. Some, especially those from the remoter portions of the continent, also spend inordinate amounts of time travelling as part of their job. The effects on politicians’ families of their career demands can be significant. The current remuneration and allowances system for Commonwealth MPs appropriately recognises this. There will always be a small number of MPs who are happy to see what they can get away with when it comes to their expenses, but the majority of MPs — perhaps unlike their UK counterparts — aren’t hell-bent on getting rich from politics, but are actually trying to serve the public interest in a job very few people are willing to take on.

When things go wrong, as they have in the UK, public outrage is entiorely appropriate. But the sort of knee jerk, lowest-common-denominator-populist, hostility toward Australian politicians that our two largest selling newspapers indulged in today, is an empty and destructive gesture.

In a democracy, the option is always open to citizens: if they don’t like the job their political leaders are doing, or think they are too well-rewarded, they can stand for Parliament themselves, or join a party to do so. Unfortunately, membership of political parties has been in decline for many years.

Given the incessant bitching about MPs that goes on in the community, it’s probably not surprising that so few are willing to expose themselves to it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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