Monday, 7 October 2013

Peter Reith is still an idiot, and Peter Slipper gets something right

At the end of a story on MP travel rorts, the Sydney Morning Herald had a poll question - Should politicians have unlimited taxpayer-funded travel entitlements? Unsurprisingly, 97% of respondents answered "No". Too right. We should be cutting back, not increasing travel by MPs.

The article opened with Peter Slipper, who lost his seat due in no small part to using taxpayer-funded Cabcharge to visit Canberra region wineries. Slipper calls out the hypocrisy of recent repayments of travel rorts by various politicians. To have Peter Slipper stepping onto a moral high ground, with some validity, shows how bad things are.

Our now Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, seriously believed attending the wedding of one of his colleagues was part of his work and should be billed to the taxpayer. Same for Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce attending a radio shock jock's wedding. Who else billed the taxpayer to attend that wedding? Our now Attorney General, Liberal MP George Brandis. And then there's study tours like Labor MP Bernie Ripoll heading to France under the pretence of learning about cycling infrastructure. Bollocks, such study trips are just a rationalisation for pollies having a trip away. Use a library or the internet instead. We also find that Julia Gillard's partner, Tim Mathieson, somehow rationalised to himself the absurd belief that he should use a government car to pursue his hair care business.

Peter Reith, a Minister in the Howard government, weighed in and argued that our politicians should indeed have unlimited travel:
Asked whether taxpayers should foot the bill for MPs to attend weddings, Mr Reith said: ''Since when is that not being part of being a politician, you know, going out for lunch with a shock jock or going to his wedding? You'd be a mug if you didn't go to a shock jock's wedding if you're invited.''
Reith may be right that you would be a political mug if you didn't go to a shock jock's wedding. It may be politically worthwhile for our politicians to suck up to such people. But that's politics, not public service. The Liberal Party should be picking up the bill. Even appearing on a radio shock jock's show should not be grounds for travel allowances to be paid. Use a phone - it's not a visual medium. For TV interviews, use video-conferencing. For most of our politicans, the only travel should be between their office and Canberra and around their electorates.

The article reports that:
Senator Milne said she would introduce a private member's bill once the new Parliament begins, expected to be next month, which would establish an independent commissioner and a parliamentary adviser to oversee entitlements.
How about, as a first small step, we stop calling them entitlements. Then start to move toward ending all  travel for study tours, meetings with "opinion makers", and social and sporting events. But firmer action is also needed.

Peter Slipper is right, though perhaps not in the way he intended. We need more prosecutions.

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