Opinion

OPINION: Parliament's wasted "expenses” opportunity

FORMER Fisher MP, Peter Slipper's example of excessive use of parliamentary expenses was an opportunity missed to clean up a mess that has now claimed Health Minister Sussan Ley. Photo: Brett Wortman / Sunshine Coast Daily
FORMER Fisher MP, Peter Slipper's example of excessive use of parliamentary expenses was an opportunity missed to clean up a mess that has now claimed Health Minister Sussan Ley. Photo: Brett Wortman / Sunshine Coast Daily Brett Wortman

THE Turnbull Government would not have lost a Minister and now be facing fresh issues regarding the use of parliamentary entitlements if the federal parliament had in 2011, when asked, acted to thoroughly examine the spending of former Fisher MP Peter Slipper.

The Sunshine Coast, in a petition signed by 2700 people and presented in July, 2011, asked the Parliament to do just that but despite mounting examples of Mr Slipper's willingness to push the boundaries of entitlement guidelines, political expediency meant nothing happened.

Instead there have since been innumerable examples of politicians dipping too deep, a tendency that ended Bronwyn Bishop's career and which now threatens that of former Health Minister Sussan Ley, forced to stand down over expense claims, the use of which for official business had coincided with her purchase of a Gold Coast investment property.

Federal Fairfax MP Ted O'Brien says Ms Ley's absence would not impact his and Fisher MP Andrew Wallace's attempts to win the additional 15 places necessary to adequately fund a medical school at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

Maybe not, but it can't have helped.

Certainly Mr Slipper's latest Tweets haven't helped progress debate on the moral equivalence of a government that harasses social welfare recipients but can't curb the doubtful dipping of its parliamentarians.

"Surely if Australia is a democracy, everyone should be given equivalence of treatment," is the former Coast MP's Twitter take on the Sussan Ley affair.

It is uncertain whether Mr Slipper wants the former Health Minister slapped over the knuckles with a feather, as ultimately occurred in his case, or is an impassioned plea for her to be made Speaker.

That is certainly what happened in 2011 when a full appreciation of the extent of his use of public money was exposed.

The 2011 Sunshine Coast petition, organised by the Sunshine Coast Daily and presented to Parliament by former Fairfax MP Alex Somlyay, asked for a complete audit of expenses claimed by Mr Slipper during the previous decade, overseen by the National Audit Office with a view to it framing recommendations that may produce expenditure guidelines more in line with community expectations.

It further sought that expenditure provisions be tightened to require all Members to give detail of the parliamentary or electoral business that led to an expense being incurred.

While still a backbencher, Mr Slipper spent $318,267.30 of taxpayers' money during the six months to December 31, 2010 compared with the $233,500.57 spent by then Climate Change Minister Greg Combet.

The spending also outstripped senior members of his own party including Malcolm Turnbull (210,860.06), Joe Hockey ($250,835.66) and Scott Morrison ($237,853.78).

It was found that in July alone of that year, while Parliament was in recess, his bill for ground and air travel reached $23,000.

His only explanation was a declaration it was for parliamentary or electoral business, refusing repeatedly to open his diary to scrutiny.

The Labor Government of the time, more intent on shoring up its slim majority, didn't seize the excess as a catalyst for change, instead promoting Mr Slipper to Deputy Speaker and ultimately Speaker of the House.

John Murphy, the former Labor Member for Reid, and then chair of the House of Representative petitions committee, rejected a Coalition invitation to stand against Mr Slipper for the job.

Michael Danby, Labor's Member for Melbourne Ports, in seconding his party's nomination of Mr Slipper as Speaker chose to criticise this newspaper's attempts to hold the Member for Fisher to account for the $57,000 he spent on taxis, cars and limos, an amount that exceeded the annual $52,000 household income of his electorate.

Mr Slipper was eventually cleared on appeal after being convicted on charges relating to the altering of Cabcharge vouchers to represent trips around Canberra, to which he was entitled, to disguise days out at wineries outside the ACT.

In her Golden Globes lifetime achievement award acceptance speech this week actor Meryl Streep took aim at US President-elect Donald Trump making the point the behaviour of senior public officials was important because how they act "gives permission for other people to do the same thing".

And there lies the danger in the double standards that exist when those in power grant themselves privilege and entitlements they fight to withhold from others.

The message is a clear one - elbows up and grab what you can.

Is it any wonder so many large Australian companies can find reasons not to pay tax and that voters are deserting major political parties even when experience tells them the alternative rarely delivers any better.

Topics:  editors picks entitlements expenses malcolm turnbull michael danby peter slipper petition speaker sussan ley


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

New breed of laws

PAWFECT COMPANION: Isaac dog owners like Curtis Teale, pictured with husky Luca, will need to abide by new breeding laws that start today.

New dog breeding laws throughout Queensland will begin today.

Serving up a tasty fundraiser

YARNS APLENTY: Bush poet Murray Hartin will entertain diners at the Springsure State School's Paddock to Plate 2017 dinner.

Springsure State School is serving up a yummy fundraiser.

Let's seal our future prosperity

KNEE DEEP: Matthew and Bernadette Paine's daughter Grace demonstrates how the heavy traffic load causes incredible wear and tear on Springsure-Tambo Rd.

Region outgrows dirt road

Local Partners

Council sells land for unpaid rates

Several properties will go under the hammer as the Central Highlands Regional Council makes a bid to recoup money owed for unpaid rates.

What to expect at Birds of Tokyo's Ipswich gig

The band will perform at the Racehorse Hotel on Friday.

BAND member Glen Sarangapany talks music, pub grub and doing shoeys

What public holidays are left in 2017

Ipswich residents will get the day off tomorrow for the show.

IPSWICH residents will get tomorrow off for the show

Caitlyn comes home to launch debut album

Gympie's Caitlyn Shadbolt will launch here debut album Songs On My Sleeve at an exclusive all-ages concert in Gympie on Friday, May 26.

Win tickets to Caitlyn's album launch

Model Bella Hadid's see-through dress shocks in Cannes

JUST WHEN you thought you’d all of Bella Hadid’s supermodel figure — she gets her Cannes out on the red carpet of an AIDS gala dinner in France.

No room for morbid fans

Chris Cornell.

Fans want to stay in the hotel room where Chris Cornell died

Star Wars' 1977 Stormtrooper head banger confesses

A Stormtrooper is responsible for the biggest blunder in a Star Wars movie. Picture: Supplied

Man in most famous blooper in Star Wars history breaks silence

Lyn's knock-out show gets her to next round on The Voice

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS: Lyn Bowtell is through to the battle rounds on The Voice.

'It was bitter sweet to win like that'

Is this the talent you get when you limit electronics?

Cassidy Kilburn in the Get the Beat International Dance Competition.

Cassidy, 11, preparing for national dance championships

Dreamworld may supersize with 'Disneyland expansion'

Dreamworld could become a “more attractive and entertaining park”.

Report reveals progress on $319m airport upgrade

Aerials of the Sunshine Coast.Jetstar plane in front of the Susnhine Coast terminal, Sunshine Coast Airport.

Over two dozen government approvals needed for airport expansion

Lost dough leaves sour taste after company collapse

Kathleen and John Mahoney from Sugar and Spice Bakery were stung after the collapse of Cantro Pty Ltd and are still owed money.

Supermarket operator collapse leaves sour taste for bakery

Open for inspection homes May 25-31

Check out this weekend's homes open for inspection

How Toowoomba house prices compare in Australia

For sale sign in front of home.

Here's what $700,000 will buy you in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Sydney

One of Maryborough's most historic homes is still for sale

FULL OF HISTORY: Trisha Moulds is owner of the historic Tinana state known as Rosehill. The beautiful home is currently for sale.

It has been the scene of both joy and tragedies over the years.

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!