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Crikey Says

Aug 10, 2015

Entitlements system a staggeringly expensive rort

If you pretend that you're working you can travel wherever you like at the taxpayer's expense.

Parliament has a new Speaker this morning in the member for Casey, Tony Smith. Tony Abbott will be hoping that today signals a new start for his beleaguered government — but will Bronwyn Bishop’s (late, reluctant) decision to depart from the chair, plus the announcement of a review of the MPs’ entitlement system, be enough to sweep this damaging scandal under the carpet?

We hope not. Too often, governments announce reviews merely to take the heat out of an issue — they know that by the time the findings finally drop, the media will have moved on — but there are good reasons why voters shouldn’t let this one go so easily.

When Abbott casually admitted to a party room meeting last year that he had scheduled a visit to a cancer research centre (the same centre caught up in the HSU scandal, coincidentally) in Melbourne merely so he could bill taxpayers for travel costs to a party fundraiser the night before, he inadvertently exposed the travel entitlements system for what it is.

The PM essentially admitted that the system works like this: you pretend you are working so you can travel wherever you like at the public’s expense.

As Jason Murphy writes today, the amount of money politicians will spend on entitlements this year is staggering — more than enough to fund the new additions to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, for example, and more than the proposed saving from removing “double dipping” on parental leave.

A new Speaker with a relatively clean bill of claims won’t hide the fact that while Australians are being asked to tighten their belts, our representatives continue to spend like money is no object.

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7 comments

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7 thoughts on “Entitlements system a staggeringly expensive rort

  1. David Hand

    Now that it’s Tony Burke in the firing line so my comment is less likely to be written off as right wing foolishness, I’d like to say that the hysteria surrounding this shows a lot of shallow and churlish disdain for the office of a member of parliament.

    Yep, Bronnie shouldn’t have taken that chopper even though it wasn’t a joy ride but work related. Yep, most people don’t see fund raising as a legitimate political activity although the only alternative put forward is taxpayer funding, which is worse. Surely a bunch of ordinary citizens fronting $70 for a dinner is better than a donation from the big end of town?

    Yep, Tony Burke could have put his kids in economy and probably wishes he had. But here’s a guy with a job that runs 7 days a week who spends half his year living in a different city to his kids. Surely we can make room for him to see them, and so what if it’s school holidays and they’re in Cairns or Uluru?

    There are people who comment on this who resent any provision of any facility at all for politicians to get through their schedules, requiring them to catch the bus because a comcar limo is indulgent.

    Yep, they’re all paid $200k up but do we only want our parliamentarians to be restricted to the independently wealthy? If many commenters’ preferences were kept, parliament would be restricted to Rudd, Hockey, Palmer, Turnbull and maybe Reinhart and Packer.

    Do we want that?

    Fix the expenses system to make it more accountable but be careful what you wish for. You might get it.

  2. klewso

    There’s a world of difference between what Toady Says and what Toady Does.

  3. ken svay

    Wrong, wrong, wrong David. Try being a FIFO worker, long periods away from home, told how much to drink, often cant leave the camp, hot and dangerous working conditions and onerous drug and alcohol tests.
    Politicians dont have to do piss tests and no one has died falling off their chair, I think you are out of touch with the people doing the really hard work in this country.

  4. David Hand

    Yep, Ken.
    I’ve been on FIFO mines in WA and the pub closing at 6.30 and then opening again for an hour at 8 was novel. But your suggestion that politicians should make the FIFO memorial sacrificial gesture by abstaining from alcohol and not seeing their kids is a classic example of the infantile level of this hyperbolic debate. Relax the alcohol rules on a FIFO mine and people will die. There’s a difference.

    Maybe they could check into a hotel and demand that their rooms have the TV disabled in solidarity with FIFO workers as well. Maybe they could demand 7days on and 7 days off as another gesture to FIFO workers.

  5. Duncan Gilbey

    @David Hand

    Spare us the bullshit about politicians having a hard time of it. There are many who work much harder for much less.

    I think that you (and the MPs) are really underestimating the public anger at Entitlementgate.

    The only defence being offered by the body politic is that “claims are within the guidelines” (which means “because we can”). This is being interpreted as a giant “F@@K you, we’re entitled” by the constituency. Politicians may be different, but they are not special.

    Oh, and he issue is not whether Burke’s (or Pyne’s, or Hockey’s)family flew Business or Economy class, it’s that the public paid for it. Perhaps the family reunion is only important if someone else foots the bill?

  6. drsmithy

    Now that it’s Tony Burke in the firing line so my comment is less likely to be written off as right wing foolishness, […]

    Nope, pretty much that’s what it is. More privilege for the privileged.

    Plenty of private workers, and other Government workers who are not politicians work long hours away from home and their chances of being able to expense travel and accommodation for their families to come and see them hover somewhere between zero and none.

    Politicians are extremely well paid, especially in the context of a job that requires no formal qualifications, carries basically zero personal risk, typically has few and infrequently measured performance benchmarks and comes with significant fringe benefits (without even dipping into the questionable ones).

    If they want their family to visit them, they can pay for it themselves, just like every other mug has to. The argument that not doing so will limit the political lineup to the “independently wealthy” is utterly risible.

    Similarly, if they are fundraising, they shouldn’t be claiming the costs of doing so. That’d be like me using one of my current employer’s cabcharges to go to an interview for a new job.

    The Right always want Government to be run like a business. No business would be allowing these sorts of expenses to be claimed.

  7. AR

    OneHand must be in serious danger of running out of strawmen for his rabble-soothing bromides.