"Ironically it is a system that gives bigger pay packets to the ones with the lowest moral standards."The last major upswell of public resentment against politicians’ entitlements did lead to change. The most egregiously generous past entitlement -- way outside anyone else’s reach -- was the lifetime travel gold pass. That was abolished. Previously extraordinarily generous superannuation entitlements were brought into line with community standards. Reflecting this, parliamentarians’ pay has also risen to some $230,000 (depending on which electorate they represent; they have a base salary of $198,000 and an electorate allowance which is counted as salary). Although that helped allay concerns for a while, there are still ample opportunities for politicians to make claims beyond the wildest dreams of ordinary workers. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has resisted calls for reform. While in Brunei he said "you don't want members of parliament to be prisoners of their offices … politicians are entitled to travel when the travel is reasonably related to their office and that's what all of us do". This is absolutely fair for travel that really is related to an MP's work. What does become a problem is add-ons for social events; grand finals, property deals. When Abbott competes in a high-profile sporting event he reasonably can claim that it is part of his job. But when an avoirdupois-challenged backbencher claims travel entitlements to get to a family event or pick up free tickets to a grand final it is different. The Don Randall claim that the Finance Department cleared his travel claims is no defence at all. They process claims and approve them. But the rules provide that the judgement on whether it's legitimate business rests with the claimant. The Prime Minister’s Office has reminded Coalition MPs that they should submit their travel plans to the PMO in advance. The other entitlement in the news has been publications. Here the problem is not that claimants have done the wrong thing; almost any book at all could arguably in some way be relevant to the job. Attorney-General George Brandis bought a lot of books, and had one of the biggest purpose-built bookcases in Parliament House. There was no suggestion that this was outside what he was entitled to claim. The problem is that this is considered an entitlement at all, lots of other professions require reading material and in other professions people buy what they need and claim it as a tax deduction. Exactly the same could apply to politicians, while perhaps allowing them to buy newspapers. The final defence politicians make is that the rules are ambiguous and complicated. That is undoubtedly true. The online guidance is long and complicated. And that’s the plain English version, not the much more complicated underpinning regulation and legislation. The fundamental drawback of the complex entitlements system is that it leads parliamentarians into temptation -- some succumb. Ironically it is a system that gives bigger pay packets to the ones with the lowest moral standards. Many parliamentarians are scrupulous with their claims, don’t buy everything to which they are entitled and don’t travel excessively. They are the kind of people we want to see in the Parliament. Sadly the system ends up paying them less than the ones who stretch and test every definition they find.
Expenses scandal: the rules leading MPs into temptation
Lead me not into temptation, oh Finance Department ... governance expert Stephen Bartos explains how the rules around MPs' entitlements encourage unscrupulous pollies to claim, claim, claim.