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.
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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.