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John Passant

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January 2013



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

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Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

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Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
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Is there only one Slipper?

The Crown case against Peter Slipper, former speaker of the House of Representatives in Australia, seems clear enough.

The Crown alleges that Slipper used his Commonwealth Cabcharge and vouchers to pay for 3 day trips to wineries near Canberra, presumably to binge on booze and food.

Allegedly he was not entitled to claim these trips on Cabcharge. Allegedly Slipper submitted various vouchers to disguise the facts.

For example 4 vouchers for the travel for one day, read ‘Travel from Parliament House to suburbs’, and another from ‘suburbs to suburbs.’ The Crown alleges this was deliberate, to disguise the reality of the ‘ineligible for funding’ trip and to receive the money to cover the private expenditure.

The amounts involved for the 3 days are about $1000.

He has been charged with dishonestly causing ‘a risk of loss to a person, namely the Department of Finance and Administration’.

The penalty for that crime is up to five years in jail. This is important because if Slipper is found guilty no matter whether or not he receives a custodial sentence, he would be ineligible under the Constitution to continue to sit in Parliament. He is one of the votes that helps the minority Labor Government to remain in power. 

However it is likely that the decision in his case will only be finalised well after the 2013 election.

These Slipper expense matters only came to light as a consequence of the tight political situation in the House and Slipper’s defection from the Liberal National Party to become the speaker.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott has attacked Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her lack of judgement in appointing slipper as the Speaker. Slipper was at the time the alleged offences occurred a member of Tony Abbott’s Liberal team.  

In the run up to the 2010 election, Tony Abbott defended Slipper’s large travel bills in 2009. According to the Sunshine Coast Daily Abbott said at the time:

I’m satisfied (Mr Slipper) has acted within his entitlements. My understanding is that he’s acted within his entitlements.

Here is what the Sunshine Coast Daily also said:

In the second six months of 2009, Mr Slipper spent $75,990.23 on airfares, private car, Com Cars, hire cars, taxis and publications.

By comparison, National Party leader Warren Truss spent $62,567.26, Member for Longman John Sullivan spent $32,892.16 and member for Fairfax Alex Somlyay spent $25,328.64.

It would of course be scurrilous to suggest that Abbott supported Slipper back then because he was the Liberal National Party candidate for the seat of Fisher in what was going to be a very close action. It would also of course be scurrilous to suggest that he only changed his public view about Mr Slipper after he deserted the Opposition.

The case against Slipper raises wider questions. Is he the only parliamentarian to have abused his entitlements? Certainly he is under the spotlight because of his defection from the Conservatives, his resignation as Speaker and the numbers in the almost hung Parliament. Oh, and the fact he has a long record of high levels of spending on airfares, private cars, Com Cars, hire cars, taxis and publications.

Perhaps other Parliamentarians should receive the same level of scrutiny. As an old ATO man, a risk management approach might help here. Who has large travel claims? Who has paid back overpaid claims in the past on more than one occasion?

I know some of you will see me as deeply cynical in arguing for a more thorough investigation of parliamentarians’ spending on travel and other matters. If it did happen then all it really shows is one bad apple. Well, in Victoria, Liberal Party MP Geoff Shaw has been accused of using his government car for his business. The Age said:

Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer found Mr Shaw had used his taxpayer-funded Ford Territory and fuel card to run his hardware business, and had provided misleading information about it under oath.

Victoria Police are investigating.

The Baillieu Government has a majority of one in the Parliament and polls show it would be defeated if an election were held now.

OK, maybe I am cynical. After all there are no records elsewhere of systemic rorting by parliamentarians. Are there?

Well yes. The British Parliament was found to be full of rorters a few years ago. An FoI request started the rot. It revealed the extent and nature of some of the MPs’ expense claims. It did not reveal those claims not authorised.

Before these documents were released The Daily Telegraph published details of all expense claims. Hell soon broke loose.

The claims covered abuse of second home claims, renting out homes, over-claiming for council tax on their second home, subsidising property development, evading tax or avoiding tax on reimbursements, claiming expenses just below the £250, when no receipt is required, claiming the full food expense limit irrespective of whether any money had been spent.

Now it may be that Australian Parliamentarians aren’t rorters by and large unlike some of their UK counterparts. But given that both do much the same sort of job, face the same challenges and have the same privileged and powerful positions, who knows what a thorough investigation of MP expense claims would reveal.

Their position in society may make some of them believe they are above the law, entitled to rewards because of their hard work, not needing to justify themselves. Certainly any investigative and transparent system might correct these delusions of grandeur and spending some MPs may have.

I doubt Peter Slipper is on his own. So where to start?

DOFA produces the figures for expenditure. Parliamentarians are also asked ‘… to certify that their entitlements usage was in accordance with the provisions legislated for each respective entitlement. Commencing from the period January to June 2011, information regarding Parliamentarians’ certification of their entitlements usage is published.’

As at 7 January this year, 8 parliamentarians had not made certifications for the period 1 January to 30 June 2012. I am not suggesting any wrong doing but why not make the statement? The explanation for some is easy enough. They have left the parliament. But some are still there. So why haven’t they made the certification?

An intrepid reporter might go through the expense claims from DOFA to see if any standouts (apart from Peter Slipper) exist and ask them to explain why their claims are so much larger than their contemporaries.

But surely that should be the realm of the DOFA system. And why isn’t the system transparent so each claim and evidence is available for public viewing?

Even then, it might also be worthwhile trying to find out information through the cracks in the system – for example who has made repayments of excess claims and why. Freedom of Information might help here.

An FoI claim might be very useful here, to help us understand how our politicians do behave. And god forbid a newspaper might get access to such a list.

To win back our trust maybe the Parliament should open up all the expense information it has to public scrutiny. It could set up an expense investigation committee to go over all the claims of the last few years with a forensic fine tooth comb.

We have a good role model. The equivalent of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and its draconian powers could be set up to smash alleged rorting by a small group allegedly holding the rest of us to ransom through their allegedly criminal behaviour.

Dave Oliver from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Dave Noonan from the building workers’ union and Julian Assange might be good nominees to carry out the investigation.

Comments (see the link under the heading) close after 7 days.



Comment from JN
Time January 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Dave Oliver from the Australian Council of Trade Unions….?

A most interesting suggestion, especially given that the executive and bureaucracy of the ACTU is itself traditionally a fast track to ministerial office and gold plated parliamentary perks, privileges and pensions.

Comment from John
Time January 10, 2013 at 3:45 pm

True JN for some of them; but not all of them. And it was more for the shock value.

Comment from JN
Time January 11, 2013 at 10:37 am

I’m not sure what you mean when you say its true for some of them, but not all. Like most wage slaves in this country, I live somewhere on struggle street. This is not the case for the executive of the organisation in question here. Even those individuals who somehow don’t make it into parliament or ministerial office are economically and socially far removed from the reality of the wage slaves whom they claim to represent.

In any case, the ACTU is tied to the cretins and criminals in parliament by a thousand and one economic and political threads and material privileges and interests. So much so that suggesting one of their number “investigate” the villains in parliament has as much shock value to me as the notion that foxes nominate one of their own to guard the hen house.

Comment from John
Time January 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm

True, but my audience isn’t those who cannot distinguish between the wood and the trees. I suspect a few Libs and Nationals might be worried by the head of the ACTU investigating them. Put in whoever you want to scare the shit out of the parliamentarians. But OK, instead of Dave Noonan, a rank and file BLFer or MUA member. I know a few who could do the job. Most readers wouldn’t recognise their name. The point is our paid for popinjays of profit are corrupt politically and some of them may also be corrupt at work. And the odds of the left field getting up are on a par with Bradley Manning receiving justice or Obama stopping drone bombing or the Gillard government actually implementing equal pay.

Comment from JN
Time January 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Perhaps the question is why do the Liberal and the National parliamentarians deserve be singled out or scared by charges of corruption to any greater extent than do their neoliberal colleagues in the Anti Labour Party.

Besides, even if parliament was miraculously cleaned up of corruption (or even National and Liberal MPs), would it not be rather beside the point? It would still fundamentally remain an institution that functions to legitimate an undemocratic system of class rule and exploitation and (insert a four letter word of your choice) the vast majority of us over.

A plague on both sides of that house of criminals, parasites and blighters, I say.

Comment from pk
Time January 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Interesting piece. Did you see this article about Mp phone bills?
I would like to know how MPs distinguish between personal calls and those done in a private function.Just look at one example, Michael Danby spending 13k on phone bills. Has he heard of Skype? Look, I’m sure these expenses are perfectly legitimate, but if MPs had a substantial pay rise and were no longer able to access most expense claims there would be little incentive for rorts. It would also eliminate the potential for populist attacks – e.g. the old ‘foreign junket’ label.

Comment from John
Time January 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm

PK, no I didn’t. I’ll have a read. The point is that there will be many examples. As to legitimate, I’d argue having a transparent process in which we know the details of all the claims, ie that they are made public, is appropriate.

Comment from John
Time January 11, 2013 at 10:14 pm

All true, but let’s deal with the situation now and how we can best relate to workers and show them that reality. Exposing both sides would help do that. Certainly the fall out from the rorts in the UK was complete disillusionment with parliament among large sections fo the working class. However it didn’t mean a shift to the left because of the control of the trade union bureaucracy, the hold of reformism as an idea on workers and the lack of a large revolutionary party to be a pole of attraction for disaffected workers.

Comment from John
Time January 11, 2013 at 10:30 pm

pk, they did get a substantial pay rise last year, from around $120,000 to $180,000 from memory in recognition of all the hard work they do evidently and to attract high quality people.

Comment from John Richardson
Time January 14, 2013 at 9:58 am

Hi John.
Putting aside the not unimportant fact that the case against Slipper has yet to be proven, there are a number of other inconsistencies evident in this affair.
To start with, on the allegation that Slipper attempted to concel his activities when using the cabcharge dockets, by using innocuous descriptions, the question needs to be asked as to why the Finance Department bureaucrats didn’t query the matter?
Also, why was the so-called ‘Minchin Protocol’ not applied by the Finance Department in this instance (this arrangement, whereby parliamentarians were given the opportunity of repaying amounts incorrectly billed to taxpayers, was put in place following the outrageous $50,000 rort perpetrated by Peter Reith in respect of his phone card). My understanding is that Slipper offered to reimburse the cabcharge expenses but the Department refused his offer.
And if Slipper is the crook that the AFP would have us believe that he is, where does that leave Tony Abbott, who used taxpayer-funded travel & accommodation whilst promotinbg sales of his book & also accepted the commonwealth travelling allowance whilst allegedly engaged in a charitable activity?
The real problem with all this stuff is that the attraction of taking advantage of the public teat is very hard to resist … it’s a bit like shopkeepers putting items out on the sidewalk to promote customer sales, but then complaining when someone makes-off with something without paying.
Until the bureaucrats responsible for monitoring/policing politicians use of taxpayer funds do the job they are being paid to do, the politicians will continue to abuse it.
Trying to hang Slipper for doing something that is accepted practice is breathtaking hypocrisy … but, of course, our politicians are renowned for that particular attribute.

Comment from John
Time January 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm

John, it is why I say allegedly.

Comment from Jolly
Time January 14, 2013 at 9:23 pm

@ John Richardson
Our Finance Dept bureaucrats are either simply in competent or too scared to ask questions. It is my belief that our bureaucrats only go after the small fish; the paye or small businessmen. Their bosses in the civil service are too worried of ‘rocking the boat’ and turn a blind eye to the corrupt behaviour of some of our politicians. In the end, the nation pays a hefty price. As for the unions….LOL.

Comment from John
Time January 15, 2013 at 5:51 am

Not true. Our public servants do a good job within the constraints imposed on them. Unions could impose perhaps police policies, but the problems this produces are as JN points out insurmountable. The system itself is corrupt.

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