Travel entitlements – Policy Position
During the winter break for Parliament in 2015, scrutiny of politicians’ use of travel entitlements reached fever pitch, resulting in the resignation of the Speaker.
Travel entitlements are established to enable politicians to do their work across the country. Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Senators receive invitations to attend events or meetings all over the country, to better inform them of the policy considerations involved when they frame budgets, inquiries, legislation et cetera. In some cases, members of parliament participate in overseas delegations to improve international relations and trade. As one of the geographically largest democracies in the world located a considerable distance from other nations, it is necessary for Australian politicians to embark upon taxpayer-funded travel.
The current structure of the travel entitlements regime has been flexible with the Finance Department warning members of parliament that they must remember the ‘front page test’ when they undertake travel. In other words, members of parliament must consider how their claim would be treated on the front page of a newspaper. Some recent examples demonstrate that members of parliament have at times failed that threshold.
Accountability for rorting of travel entitlements comes through:
- the transparency of regular public reporting of travel claims, and
- the scrutiny provided by political opponents and a free and independent media. The coverage, reactions and outcomes of travel entitlement claiming practices in mid-2015 demonstrates a transparent system in good health; and
- ultimately, accountability within political parties and/or at the ballot box for members of parliament deemed to have abused their entitlements. In other words, if the electorate’s view is that a member of parliament has abused their entitlements, they will not win re-election.
Despite the foregoing, there are some people in the community who believe that politicians of all persuasions misuse their travel entitlements. The government has announced a ‘root and branch’ review of travel entitlements. Family First welcomes the review and supports any improvements in transparency and accountability for use of travel and other parliamentary entitlements. We also support the Travel Entitlement Reform campaign of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance for prompt publication of travel entitlement use.