Tony Abbott tried to stem the damage done by the Bronywn Bishop travel scandal by announcing a review into parliamentary expenses.
“Regrettably … there are still too many situations where members of parliament can do things that are inside entitlement, but outside public expectations,” he told reporters on the weekend when announcing Bishop’s resignation.
But a parliamentary committee already conducted a review into parliamentary expenses just five years ago — and several of the recommendations relating to travel have still not been implemented.
If this one had been, for example, Tony Burke would likely not be facing questions today about flying his family members business class to Uluru on the public dime:
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“That the government remove the travel entitlements of the dependent children of a senior officer provided under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990.”
The Parliamentary Entitlements Act is an odd law indeed. The list of benefits that MPs are entitled to is here. But there is no definition of what constitutes “parliamentary business” in the act and, as The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor found last week, it’s impossible to find one elsewhere, either. We can’t help but think that such a gaping loophole would’ve have been closed long ago if this law related to anyone other than politicians.
All that MPs have to guide them is “public expectations” — and increasingly it’s clear that politicians regularly claim expenses that fall widely outside of those.
We agree with independent MP Andrew Wilkie that the Finance Department should conduct an audit of all travel claims by current and former MPs during this and the previous Parliament.
Once that is done, we need a law that is able to be enforced — one with a clear definition of what constitutes parliamentary work and what doesn’t.