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OPINION: Time for our politicians' age of entitlement to end

Minister for Health Sussan Ley during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
Minister for Health Sussan Ley during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) MICK TSIKAS

HEALTH Minister Sussan Ley will not be the last politician to fall from grace over travel entitlements if the Prime Minister fails to take steps to address the culture of entitlement that has infected the political class in Australia for many years.

Leaders make culture and have the responsibility of getting the culture right. Making rules alone is not a panacea for a sick culture.

The starting point must be defining what is the correct culture. This must involve a recognition that parliamentarians are servants of the people and that they hold positions of public trust. Service and trust must be paramount considerations that must prevail over personal interest.

The concept of public trust must inform any decisions made about the use of public money.

Trustees of foundations and estates must always put the interests of beneficiaries ahead of their own personal interests. Likewise, politicians are custodians of public money and must be very careful in the way in such monies are spent as they are being spent for the common good of the community who have paid their taxes to raise these moneys.

Political leaders can best lead by example in setting the culture of service in a selfless way.

Political leaders such as former Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key and former long serving Lord Mayor of Brisbane the late Dr Clem Jones AO have done this.

Both political leaders took office without pay. This is the most stark example of a political leader serving for the benefit for their nation or city and not for personal advantage. It is no coincidence that both political leaders were very popular and very effective.

Another example of selfless service is that of former independent Ted Mack, who served at all three levels of government in Australia with enormous integrity to the extent he personally suffered by refusing to be party to what he called a corrupt parliamentary superannuation scheme. When Ted left the Commonwealth Parliament, he was required to sell his home to fund his retirement. He was also enormously popular with his electorate.

The public is crying out for the integrity and selfless service of people like Key, Jones and Mack.

Another feature of the culture of Key, Jones and Mack was that these men all had a big picture vision of the way society could be changed for the better. They wanted to make the world a better place and could see what needed to be done to make it so.

It is also remarkable that none of these leaders were voted out of office. Once the job was done, they retired.

This reveals another flaw in the culture of our current crop of politicians. Too many of them are career politicians who are feather bedding their own futures.

It is now up to the Prime Minister to inform his parliamentary colleagues that the culture of entitlement is over and to lead by example.

The Prime Minister must commit to an independent oversight of parliamentary entitlements and the establishment of a federal anticorruption body, similar to those established in the States.

There can be no good reason to oppose these basic integrity measures. Accountability must be seen to be done so that public confidence can be restored.

Ted Mack would want to go further and have the Commonwealth anti corruption body appointed independently by a Head of State under an Australian Republic.

Let the Prime Minister be inspired by Key, Jones and Mack.

Topics:  clem jones john key malcolm turnbull parliamentary entitlements parliamentary expenses politics sussan ley


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