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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Joe Hockey may be all heart, but...

Peter Hartcher in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald wrote about Shadow Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey buying a $2500 dinner for 10 at a charity auction, speculating whether it came from his pocket or courtesy of his recently increased electoral allowance. The Herald published these letters today under the heading "If only we knew what our MPs did with their allowance":

"Joe Hockey may or may not chalk the raffled bid for lunch with Les Murray to his newly increased $32,000 electoral allowance, but we will never know unless Joe chooses to tell ("Rudd cements his reputation as the Cowardly Lion of Oz", May 16-17). This is just the tip of what we don't know about MPs' use of our money. There is no information available publicly about how they spend this allowance, or their postal, telephone and printing allowances, or where the travel allowance payments go for all those nights away from home. Who knows whether all the allowance for time in Canberra is paid to a hotel, a friend, a relative or a supporter who owns the place, or to the bank to pay off the mortgage?

Limited information is published twice a year about money the Department of Finance pays on behalf of members for some travel and the use of cars - though it is not on the web - but this also is far from the full picture. Unpublished details include taxpayer-funded spouse travel and the cost of an entitlement for anyone to represent an MP at a funeral anywhere in Australia. It is the same situation or worse for money paid to state MPs.

The federal and NSW governments have recently rejected a recommendation to change freedom-of-information laws to apply to parliaments. All this when the media has been full of the excesses of British politicians spending at taxpayers' expense, information that came to light only after a four-year FoI battle. We won't be reading about such things here.

Peter Timmins. Potts Point

"If the same light were applied to the electoral claims of Australian politicians as has been shone on those of the British political elite, there would be similar results. In Australia the unspent balance of electorate allowances may be spent by the member on anything. While some claim there is nothing left over for personal use, others have been much less forthcoming on how much of their allowances is left over and is therefore used for private expenses.

How do we know that money designated for use in the local area is not being spent on an MP's dog or holiday home? Until there is openness in our reporting system the suspicion will remain that Australian and British politicians are the same."

David Neilson Invergowrie

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