Time to junk the junkets
When I was working at Melbourne’s Herald Sun, I reported on an MP who’d used taxpayer funds to fly herself and her partner to Europe for a guided bus tour of the Continent.
The trip was justified as a fact-finding mission on the use of public rubbish bins, which she’d dutifully photographed out of the window of her comfy Trafalgar bus.
Needless to say she wasn’t too happy with the story, which ran with a headline along the lines of “MP’s tour of rubbish”. And when Victorians next went to the polls, democracy left her on the heap.
http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/calls-to-review-government-travel-perks/story-e6frea83-1226196078592Most voters hate the notion of travel perks for politicians. We don’t get them, so why should they?
It plays into our perception that politicians are a litter of little piggies with their trouts wedged in the taxpayer trough.
I don’t buy that. Like or love politicians of any given persuasion, they’re not idle individuals.
When they’re not in parliament (which is way too often – the Lower House sits for just 47 days in 2011) they’re focussed on their portfolios or out in their electorates.
One MP told me he attends 70 functions a month – his record is 11 in one weekend. You try doing that without sacrificing your personal life, not to mention your sanity.
The families of politicians endure a lot, too, either by relinquishing precious time with their partner/parent or tagging along to those same worthy-but-work events.
Extensive public duties and personal sacrifices aside though, there’s a limit to the generosity that politicians should expect in return from taxpayers.
Which leads us to the row over Education Minister Grace Portolesi’s decision to take her daughter to India on a $7000 business class airfare – and Opposition leader Isobel Redmond’s call for a review of perks to ensure they match “community expectations”.
So what is a reasonable “community expectation” when it comes to travel allowances for 69 MPs who earn a basic wage of $132,000 (and rising for any portfolio or committee work)?
For starters, given our state’s AAA credit rating is at risk, and MP travel allowances cost us $400,000-plus last financial year, it’s entirely reasonable for all spouse travel to be axed.
Every day in the real world, people weigh up the pros and cons of particular jobs and decide what’s doable given their personal circumstances.
If you’ve got young kids and a busy partner, you don’t choose a job requiring lots of overseas travel. And if you want to marry business travel with pleasure, you pay for the privilege.
As much as I like Grace Portolesi and the idea of more young women in parliament, the Federal Government was right to stop children accompanying their parents on official trips, even if families are willing to pay.
Anyone with kids knows your focus is not the same when they’re around, no matter how angelic they’re pretending to be.
As for taxpayers funding the travel costs of MPs, the system needs to be turned on its head to ensure it’s more a strategic resource and less a pot of cash to top up annual salaries.
True, it’s in our interests to have politicians armed with global knowledge and experience. But we could at least insist on a list of priority areas that need exploring, instead of MPs heading off willy-nilly and returning to file essentially useless, often piffling reports.
Likewise, government ministers shouldn’t choose an overseas destination and then demand bureaucrats organise a slew of pointless appointments to legitimise the trip, as is often the case. It’s a waste of government time and money.
Minister Portolesi acted within the rules. Problem is the rules are wrong.
Premier Jay Weatherill and Ms Redmond need to read the community sentiment here and act quickly on their promise to jointly review the system.
It’s a perfect opportunity for our popular new Premier to show he truly is a listener, and not just another politician keen to maintain the slushy status quo for his peers.
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