Politicians must be held more accountable for their expensive claims, and simply paying back money for false claims after the fact is not good enough...
Rorting public servants must pass the pub test
For too long, politicians have been shamelessly misusing public funds at the expense of the taxpayer.
The latest figures on parliamentarian entitlements reveal that office administrative costs, office facilities and travel costs are some of the most burdensome for the public purse. The Australian Taxpayers Alliance has lobbied for a real-time transparency portal on government expenditure for several years.
A transparency portal is a foundation to good governance and promotes accountability and transparency.
Senator Lucy Gichuhi is the latest politician to be embroiled. The federal Liberal senator financed two family members to attend her birthday party with taxpayer funds. Gichuhi claimed that her alleged travel expenses were an administrative error involving a misunderstanding of travel rules and agreed to repay the costs of $2139 in total. She also billed taxpayers more than $12,000 for five trips to Sydney for “electorate” business, despite her electorate being in South Australia, trips she claims were within the rules.
Simply repaying any misused funds does not resolve the unsettling trend of politicians excusing their behaviour by feigning ignorance, refusing to admit their misdeed or claiming they have complied with technical rules.
Taxpayers are also footing the bill for lavish office upgrades, fittings and furniture items for politicians. An extortionate $4,497,186 was spent to fit out a new Department of Human Services premises. Other excessive costs came from the Department of Jobs and Innovation which spent $210,643 for a luxury kitchen and the Department of Agriculture which spent over $300,000 to refurbish the staff gym. Such exorbitant spending on office upgrades by government departments highlights how out of touch our politicians and bureaucrats are with the reality faced by Australian taxpayers who bear some of the highest tax burdens in the developed world.
Politicians need to be held to the same standards as employees in the private sector. In the private sector, excessive spending on luxury office facilities would need to be justified to the shareholders — the bearers of the cost — before any money was expended. The luxury kitchens and multimillion-dollar fancy fit outs that politicians are enjoying would neither pass the private test nor the pub test. Currently, rorts are often only uncovered through deep media investigations or expensive FOI requests.
A real-time transparency portal offers a more economical and accessible route in holding politicians to the pub test. It would require government departments to provide an itemised outline of all significant spending with receipts within thirty days and would make it easier for the media and the public to hold our representatives and public servants to account.
The transparency portals have been implemented in international jurisdictions with successful outcomes. The United States has implemented their own expenditure portals at the State level. In Texas alone, US $8.7 million was saved in the first year alone due to waste found by citizens using their transparency portal. London and the European Union have similarly launched online portals so that every cent of taxpayer expenditure is publicly available. In other parts of the globe, Brazil and Timor-Leste successfully implemented a transparency portal to increase fiscal transparency.
Transparency portals have saved money, cut waste, eliminated corruption and improved governance. Australia should be welcoming this revolution.
If politicians have nothing to hide, they should show unwavering support to this initiative. This is not an issue about left or right but right and wrong.
Anjali Nadaradjane is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
[This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph]