In April 2012, then shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey declared ‘The Age of Entitlement is over.’
In February 2014, by then Treasurer, Joe Hockey again reaffirmed the age of entitlement was over and it was time for all Australians to do their fair share of heavy lifting, and he set out to achieve just that.
Unfortunately, it seems not everyone got Joe Hockey’s memo on the end of the age of entitlement, not even in his own government:
- on 5 November 2014, Member of the Australian House of Representatives, and the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, chartered a luxury helicopter at the cost of $5,227.27 to fly from Melbourne to Geelong, to attend a Liberal Party fundraising event;
- in 2014, Bronwyn Bishop also spent $88,084 on a two-week European trip, partly aimed at securing her a prestigious new job abroad, the Presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva; and
- in April 2014, the Minister for Education, Chris Pyne and his wife spent $30,000 on a brief trip to London and Rome,
just to mention a few recent and controversial examples of travel expenses by members of the Government.
Admittedly, often all Members of Parliament skate within the applicable rules which are both generous and vague.
As a Parliamentary office holder, the rules that apply to the Speaker of the House are more generous than the rules that apply to other Members of the House of Representatives, and what Bronwyn Bishop has done arguably may fall within the rules that apply to her position.
The grey area is whether attending a Liberal Party fundraiser is official parliamentary business. And the same question applies equally to her close to $90,000 European trip, which was at least partly aimed at securing herself a new job.
If we are living in an age of the end of entitlement, one would reasonably expect rules allowing such dubious spending of taxpayers’ money to be amended as a matter of priority, to reflect the government’s philosophy of fiscal and personal responsibility.
The enforcement of the rules is also patchy. I still recall the troubles of a previous Speaker of the House, Peter Slipper, over his travel entitlements and some other controversial allegations, which were fought in court but were eventually dropped. The travel expenses in question involved Cabcharges spent on hire cars to visit Canberra wineries for personal enjoyment to the value of … $954. He attempted to reimburse the money in question, but he was prevented from doing so by the Government, and was pursued through the courts at great expense to the taxpayers. The seven-day trial alone is estimated to have cost around $70,000.
Tony Abbott calling on Peter Slipper to step aside as Speaker while travel claim irregularities are investigated and resolved (21 April 2012)
The issue of politicians’ expenses is clearly not a new one and, if the age of entitlement is truly over, it’s time to revisit the lax and variably enforced rules that apply to them. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon wants a crackdown on politicians’ expenses, clearer and stricter guidelines and greater transparency. Frankly, doing so is long overdue.
On the other hand, the Labor Party’s referral of Bronwyn Bishop’s matter to the Australian Federal Police is also hypocritical in light of the record of Members of Parliament from both sides of politics when it comes to their expenses.
I understand there is no love lost between Bronwyn Bishop and the Labor Party, given Parliamentary records show opposition MPs have been ejected from the Chamber of the House of Representatives by Madam Speaker 394 times, compared with just eight members of the Government. A curious record for an ‘independent’ Speaker …
Nevertheless, it’s time to end the political point-scoring over Parliamentary expenses, the selective enforcement of the rules for political gain and the waste of taxpayers’ money.
What Members of Parliament need are strict, clear rules on expenses, uniform enforcement and clearly defined consequences for breaches.