CANBERRA OBSERVED News Weekly
Greens' footprints all over travel claims
, January 28, 2017
Senators Rachel Siewert and Richard Di Natale made it into the top 10 travel rorters.
The latest travel expenses scandal that has engulfed the Federal Government over the summer break is symptomatic of the great divide between voters and their elected representatives, yet politicians over many years now seem incapable of reforming themselves.
Voters have zero tolerance for politicians who exploit their generous expense and travel allowances, and have less patience with politicians fiddling the system for a few thousand dollars than the misuse of tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars in public service contracting that also occurs on a regular basis.
Former Health Minister Sussan Ley’s frequenting of the Gold Coast – trips that coincided with New Year’s Eve parties and the purchase of a luxury apartment – was a particularly egregious example of travel rorting.
However, the regularity of the travel expense scandals over many years confirms to the voter that the bending of the entitlements system by politicians to their personal advantage is more widespread than has yet been admitted.
Smilling all the way to (and from) the airport, Rachel Siewert and Richard Di Natale.
The Greens, whose sanctimony on all matters of public probity is unbearable, have also been found to be just as bad as their colleagues in the major parties on travel extravagance. Yet during the latest travel expenses media frenzy the Greens largely escaped media scrutiny.
Only The Australian newspaper bothered to investigate the extent to which the Greens also took advantage of the self-governed system of entitlements.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale and the party’s community services spokeswoman Rachel Siewert were among the top 10 spenders on taxpayer-funded flights despite loudly condemning excesses by Coalition and Labor politicians, The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale found.
Senator Siewert claimed more expenses for domestic flights in the first half of 2016 than her fellow West Australians, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, both of whom actually occupy important positions in the Government.
Senator Siewert’s webpage reads: “Rachel cares deeply for the planet and its people and believes we must address inequality and ensure that people are not living in poverty.”
Nice words, but it might also be worth including on the website how large her “carbon footprint” is given that the WA Greens Senator’s travel spending was the fifth highest of any MP, while Senator Di Natale’s was 10th of the 226 members of both houses of Parliament, according to The Australian.
Senator Siewert claimed $63,934 in travel expenses in six months, while Senator Di Natale racked up $56,526.
Similarly Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who was recently dumped as the party’s immigration spokeswoman, claimed almost $1 million in travel entitlements during her time as a frontbench spokeswoman, for trips to visit refugee camps and to attend environmental meetings.
Between 2008 and 2015, Senator Hanson-Young clocked up an extraordinary $970,000 in travel entitlements. Last year it was also revealed that the South Australian Senator had overspent on travel to the extent that she was forced to pay back $15,186 to taxpayers after she blew her electorate staff travel budget.
The Greens have demanded a new national anti-corruption watchdog in the wash-up of the ongoing travel expense scandals, but are clearly just as much a part of the problem as are the major parties.
But the politicians’ travel rorting is more a case of venality than corruption, and a Federal ICAC would be overkill. The problem is that politicians do need to travel to do their jobs properly; they need flexibility because politics is unpredictable, and they need some degree of autonomy in terms of being able to have discretion about who they meet and when.
Politicians in far-flung electorates, some the size of many countries in Europe, also have a particular need to fly frequently to reach their constituents.
In a bid to end the controversy, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared he hated the term “entitlements’’ and announced an independent parliamentary expenses authority would take control of MPs’ claims.
Parliamentarian “work expenses” are now to be published monthly in a searchable format to increase transparency, under reforms modeled on British changes after an entitlements scandal in the House of Commons.