Think twice before charging the taxpayer … Tony Abbott is expected to introduce a raft of tough rules to stop politicians making dubious travel claims. Photo: Andrew Meares
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, will cave into massive public pressure today and set tough new rules on politicians’ travel expenses after a Fairfax Media campaign exposed politicians regularly claiming taxpayer money to attend weddings, football matches and check on their far-flung investment properties.
The strict new measures will clamp down on politicians claiming expenses on weekend stopovers at destinations en route to Canberra.
They will also stop politicians employing relatives in parliamentary or electoral offices.
League lover … Barnaby Joyce during a State of Origin touch rugby match at Parliament House Canberra on Wednesday 26 June 2013. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares
Politicians who have their travel claims rejected will be hit with a fine that is 25 per cent of the total amount, which will be paid back to the Department of Finance as well.
Mr Abbott is expected to approach the remuneration tribunal with the planned changes today.
The rule changes, to be detailed by Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson on Saturday morning, come after widespread public anger at the travel rorts scandal in Canberra that has embroiled a growing number of MPs.
Fairfax Media led a vigorous campaign on the issue, exposing dubious claims by politicians for attending weddings, rugby league matches and other social functions. Flights, hire cars, taxis and accommodation have all been billed to the taxpayer for such events, with expense claims from both sides of parliament coming under scrutiny.
More than $ 20,000 has been repaid in the last in the past month by politicians since Fairfax Media revealed on September 29 that two of Mr Abbott’s most high-profile ministers claimed thousands of dollars for attending the wedding of close friend and Sydney shock jock Michael Smith. Attorney-General George Brandis and Deputy Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce subsequently repaid $ 1683 and $ 615.90 they had respectively claimed for the trip.
Fairfax Media also revealed that West Australian MP Don Randall and a family member flew to Cairns for an overnight stay in November 2012. Mr Randall claimed the $ 5259 trip was “electorate business”, despite it being 3446 kilometres from his electorate of Canning.
Mr Joyce has also come under fire for claiming $ 5300 worth of expenses for attending three NRL games last year.
The Deputy Nationals leader, who was given free tickets to watch a State of Origin game and two NRL finals in corporate boxes, claimed flights to Sydney, Comcars and overnight travel allowances to the value of $ 4615 as well as $ 741 to fly a family member Sydney and join him at the NRL grand final on September 30.
He has so far refused to pay back these costs, telling ABC Radio:
”The only reason you go to them is because you’re invited [as] an official guest. The only reason you’re an official guest is because you’re a politician. By reason [of] you being there, they talk to you about their business.”
Mr Abbott himself repaid $ 1095 for attending the wedding of former colleague Sophie Mirabella in 2006 and $ 609 for Mr Slipper’s event the same year.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said on Saturday that an announcement would be made “strengthening the rules governing parliamentarians’ expenses”. The Prime Minister, who is in Western Australia at the Liberal Party state conference, is expected to speak about the changes later today.
The Prime Minister would not need to introduce legislation to implement most of the new rules on travel expenses but is expected to seek bipartisan support if any legislative amendments are needed.
Readers were invited to help Fairfax Media investigate politicians’ expenses with links to MPs’ expense reports from July 2008 to December 2012 posted on Fairfax media websites.
Fairfax readers contributed leads on possible travel rorts to our journalists and provided commentary on the debate online. The scandal clearly rankled with hundreds of comments posted regularly on articles.
One reader dryly observed:
‘‘The moth ‘plague’ is no doubt the result of so many politicians having to open their wallets to repay dubious travel expenses.’’
A story on the Prime Minister claiming expenses to compete in the Port Macquarie Ironman attracted 570 comments alone.