Menu lock

Western Australia

Sep 1, 2017

Money for nothing: WA MPs given an annual $80k unreported, unaudited slush fund

Western Australian MPs are given $78,000 in addition to their salaries to spend as an "electorate allowance". They do not have to report what they spend it on, nor do they have to pay it back if they don't use it all for legitimate purposes. And the honour system works so well for pollies ...

Canberra journalists devote a quite a bit of time to combing through federal politicians’ disclosure logs, wherein such gems as Sussan Ley’s property-buying trip to the Gold Coast and Julie Bishop’s jaunt to the Portsea Polo can be found. But spare a thought for journos in Western Australia — members of WA Parliament receive almost $80,000 in allowances every year, and they do not have to disclose what they do with that money anywhere.

Newly elected Premier Mark McGowan has made moves to rein in members’ entitlements since taking office. He froze state MPs’ salaries for the next four years in May, a gesture almost immediately undercut by the revelation that a tribunal determination the previous year (but coming into effect after Labor took office) had delivered an increase to their motor vehicle allowance that would increase their pay by $25,000 regardless. McGowan eventually scrapped it again, but he didn’t require MPs to repay any amounts they’d received in the interim.

All members of parliament in WA receive a base rate of $156, 536 per year, and any office holder gets an additional amount — starting at $167,079 for a member of a standing committee and topping out at $355,681 for the premier.

In addition to their base remuneration MPs are paid a base electorate allowance of $78,000 per year — members for regional electorates receive additional money, in some cases pushing the total to over $100,000.

The Members of Parliament Tribunal Determination states: 

It is intended that this Allowance will be used for expenses incurred to assist with serving the electorate, including:

  1. information and communication technology, including mobile phone use, newsletters and internet publications;
  2. awards and support for community groups or individuals;
  3. hospitality and entertainment associated with a Member’s official business;
  4. advertising, other than for the purposes of campaigning, electioneering or political party promotion;
  5. costs associated with Electoral Management Systems; and
  6. stationery and printing.

The allowance is ultimately spent at the member’s discretion. The only limitations placed on the allowance is that it “shall not be used for campaigning, electioneering or political party promotion”.

But, as Martin Drum, associate professor of politics at Notre Dame Australia, pointed out to Crikey, MPs do not have to disclose how they spent their allowance, and no one would ever know if members just pocketed the cash.

“Given it can be taken as income, proving it was spent improperly would be nigh-on impossible,” he said.

Other extras, like accommodation and transport allowances, must be actively claimed, but the electorate allowance is simply paid out automatically alongside their salary.

Ian Cook, senior lecturer in Australian Politics at Murdoch University, says the lack of oversight is “troubling”.

“The legislation makes it very clear that the allowance can be spent at the member’s discretion, and there’s no provision, no indication of any requirement for reporting,” he said.

“So it’s very hard for someone in the electorate to hold their representatives to account for what they spend, and it adds to this sense of distrust in politicians.”

MPs salaries in Western Australia are set by the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal, which also has responsibility for determining rates of pay for the state’s governor as well as judges, magistrates, local government CEOs and elected members, and others.

Crikey asked McGowan if there was any plan to make the administration of the allowance more transparent, or require MPs to refund any of their electoral allowance not used for the purposes set out in the determination, but we didn’t hear back before deadline.

A spokesperson for WA Opposition Leader Mike Nahan told Crikey determining and reporting on the remuneration to be paid to MPs was a process that was “independent of members of parliament”.

Cook said it was “absolutely” within the power of politicians to make the process more transparent. For example, the tribunal followed McGowan’s direction that they reconsider their determination regarding the motor vehicle allowance.

The tribunal does mention in the future considerations section of its most recent determination in April 2016 that “in addition to continuing examination of remuneration provided to Members of Parliament, the Tribunal highlights the following issues that it intends to consider … levels of accountability applied to Electorate Allowances”. However, there is no clear indication as to how or when that might happen.

We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola

11 comments

Leave a comment

11 thoughts on “Money for nothing: WA MPs given an annual $80k unreported, unaudited slush fund

  1. Mick Devine

    I wonder how the ATO views this allowance. As it’s not a direct reimbursement of expenses, I would imagine it’s taxable. Are all the MPs declaring it?
    Mick

  2. graybul

    Recently news outlets reported that parliamentarians had taken to using social media (the media they most fear) to “market” their profiles and “good deeds”. Fair enough. But given the WA example of largesse that focusses in no small way upon communication in one form or another . . . WHY . . . . is it politicians of all colours and greed/er need; refuse to engage with the people on sites such as Crikey? No one expects them to enter into slanging matches. But if pollies were fair dinkum in their desire to understand electorates issues/concerns what better point of engagement than social media? The truth (it is always the truth) that gets one . . . the truth is that pollies don’t want to be reminded that before their political career . . . they were people just like us??

    1. Richard

      Ah, but they are NOT like the rest of the herd. They are”special” people who would be able to command such kingly ransoms anywhere else were they not so civic minded as to sacrifice all for the common good of other people (thee and me) and of course, once they have done their time, passed their onerous sentence for our benefits, they are unable to find worthwhile employment for anything more than a crust of stale bread and a pint of sour milk .. except
      1) the door that spins at high rate of RPMs between government and businesses of all kinds and
      2) their astoundingly generous, non contributory, superannuation gold pots that, unlike the common folk such as thee or me, they can access almost immediately … such a life…
      (plus all the other lurks and perks and parasitic prizes awarded to themselves to compensate them for giving up at least 4/8 years of their lives to the onerous task of spending taxpayer funds on their favourite project(s)..)

    2. Jack Robertson

      Graybul, perhaps we could ask our own resident not-like-other-pollies polly why it is that they’re all over social media like a rash now, but never use it properly, as an interactive communications platform rather than just another one-way self-promotion soap-box.

      Senator Hinch, what are your thoughts? You know, on politicians who pretend to be ‘accessible’ by maintaining a social media profile (or having a staffer do it for them), but aren’t at all interested in actual to-fro accessible interaction? We plebs here at Crikey would be interested in getting a conversation on the topic going. Soooo…the thread’s all yours, Senator.

      Senator Hinch?

      Hullo?

      Senator Crikey….?

      *tumbleweeds*

      1. graybul

        Jack . . . I also had in mind ‘light on the hill’ . . . Wayne, er Wayne Swan? If Pollies are of the mind to pontificate on social media (and I applaud their doing so) then surely an occasional interaction would not be beyond the pale??

        1. Jack Robertson

          Yes, I was too Grays!…ah, we put it all out there on the line, cig lighters a-wavin’, fists air-pumpin’, the moshtix a heavin’ thrum of democratic hunger and wannabe engagement…and like Van Morrison at his worst the buggers turn their Rock God backs on us…:-) You know what the Grundle advises his fellow A-Listers , Grays: never read the comments!

          Swanny’s next album? Gunna boycott it! 🙂

  3. Pollietragic

    $78,000.00 per year of taxpayers money, with no transparency – no reporting obligations or accountability / monitoring. What a shocker!!
    Who has allowed this ? Oh, the WA “Members of Parliament Tribunal”. They have created this allowance, and drafted the terms of the allowance so the spend by the MP’s cannot be assessed. This is a rort!
    It’s so easy to spend OPM – other peoples money / taxpayers money. Where are the WA taxpayers protests?

  4. AR

    Charming coincidence that the allowance is similar to the median wage.
    Nice bludge if you can get, and you can get it if you lie.
    Small wonder that pollies rate lowest on the trust index, even below used car vendors.

  5. Richard

    No wonder they bleat pitifully about not getting a “fair share” of the GST pot.
    They clearly have a lot on which to spend that pot.

  6. Richard

    Ah, but they are NOT like the rest of the herd. They are”special” people who would be able to command such kingly ransoms anywhere else were they not so civic minded as to sacrifice all for the common good of other people (thee and me) and of course, once they have done their time, passed their onerous sentence for our benefits, they are unable to find worthwhile employment for anything more than a crust of stale bread and a pint of sour milk .. except
    1) the door that spins at high rate of RPMs between government and businesses of all kinds and
    2) their astoundingly generous, non contributory, superannuation gold pots that, unlike the common folk such as thee or me, they can access almost immediately … such a life…
    (plus all the other lurks and perks and parasitic prizes awarded to themselves to compensate them for giving up at least 4/8 years of their lives to the onerous task of spending taxpayer funds on their favourite project(s)..)

  7. John Hall

    And they want a bigger share of the GST? Secession might be better for the rest of us. It would be interesting to see WA maintaining a Navy, infrastructure & ‘border control’ on their own funds.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.