The Coalition joint party room, with the encouragement of Malcolm Turnbull, today rebelled against the Government’s restrictions on MPs’ printing allowances, which were curtailed in early September after a damning report from the Auditor-General prompted the Prime Minister and Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig to quickly to reduce allowances and curb their use.
Coalition MPs are threatening to refer the restrictions to Parliamentary Privileges committees on the basis that they unfairly favour the Government, given a ban on printing for ‘electoral purposes’ will not prevent Government MPs from praising the Government but prevent Coalition MPs from criticising it. Turnbull called the restrictions “an assault on democracy”.
One MP also launched an extraordinary attack on the Department of Finance, calling it “noxious” and demanding Parliament itself regulate entitlements. The Department of Finance oversaw Parliamentary entitlements throughout the life of the Howard Government, after John Howard merged the Department of Administrative Services into it following the travel rorts scandals of his first term. In Public Service circles, the merger was said to be Coalition punishment of Administrative Services for failing to prevent the scandals that led to the downfall of a number of Howard Ministers.
The argument that the restrictions are anti-Coalition may be tough to sell to the public in the face of community willingness to believe politicians will go to any lengths to secure extra perks. The Government effectively neutered the issue by moving quickly in the wake of the Auditor-General’s report. It will doubtless seek to exploit the anger of Coalition MPs and paint them as out-of-touch.
Julie Bishop also used the meeting to attack Julia Gillard as “incompetent”, charging that she had failed to deliver any programs that were not commenced by the Howard Government. Bishop went on to attack most Cabinet Ministers by name.