Some expenses don't pass the pub test | Editorial

Talk of politicians’ entitlements and the federal government’s Centrelink debt claw-back show how much some people in the halls of power simply don’t get it.

Sussan Ley addresses the media in Albury at the back door of her office over expenses and travel claims in the Gold Coast. She will stand aside pending the investigation. Picture: Mark Jesser

Sussan Ley addresses the media in Albury at the back door of her office over expenses and travel claims in the Gold Coast. She will stand aside pending the investigation. Picture: Mark Jesser

National news has been dominated recently by allegations that some federal MPs have used taxpayer-funded trips for the benefit of their social calendars or to build up their real estate portfolios.

First, Health Minister Sussan Ley stepped aside after she came under fire for doing her apartment shopping while on government business in the Gold Coast.

Since then, further allegations have surfaced that prominent ministers have recently claimed taxpayer money for trips that involved jaunts to the polo, the AFL Grand Final and New Year’s Eve in an exclusive spot on Sydney Harbour.

The refrain from many commentators has been that these ministers haven’t technically broken the rules, but their behaviour wouldn’t pass the commonsense assessment of the average punter – commonly known as ‘the pub test’. Unsurprisingly, a survey at the Family Hotel in Maitland this week backed this up.

This sort of caper isn’t new. Many people would remember the fiasco in 2015, which led to the resignation of the Liberal Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop after she used $5000 in taxpayer money to hire a helicopter for a return trip from Melbourne to Geelong.

People in positions of power have taken advantage of grey areas in the rules since Adam was a boy – and there’s been guilt across the political spectrum. But MPs should remember that they work for the people. No doubt, they should get taxpayer support to do their jobs effectively, even after their generous salaries are taken into account. The question is one of fairness.

It’s astonishing to think MPs would have the hide to try to justify claims like these while their government sends tens of thousands of people welfare debt notices for thousands of dollars just before Christmas.

Those targeted in the Centrelink debacle don’t have the means to buy a $795,000 Gold Coast apartment as an impulse purchase.

The same level of empathy that the government has shown the people who face huge Centrelink bills – who have to start paying their debt while their case is being reviewed – should be returned from taxpayers when considering the shonky logic that these MPs have applied to their own circumstances.