By Matt Hrkac
Bronwyn Bishop 'Choppergate': A product of a broken system
There is a serious argument for reform when it comes to parliamentary entitlements, and when it comes to our elected representatives claiming expenses on taxpayers. The recent scandal involving now resigned speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, concerning helicopter flights, limousines, private chauffeurs and other such travel expenses, many to private functions and Liberal Party fundraisers, highlights that these scandals are merely a product of a broken system, a system that is in serious need of reform.
Yes, there is a place for entitlements. An MP wouldn't be able to run an office or serve their constituents without those entitlements, or indeed, it would make it a lot harder for MP's to do their work. However, it becomes beyond ridiculous when an MP can claim that expensive helicopter rides, limo rides, and other such things are within parliamentary entitlements (NB: the chopper ride that Bronwyn Bishop claimed wasn't within entitlements, hence she had to pay back the money and then some). If these things are within entitlements for an MP, then perhaps entitlements need to be reformed and made more stringent, or measures put in place to prevent illegitimate expense claims.
First of all, there needs to be a federal independent anti-corruption watch dog established - a body that would be responsible for overseeing parliamentary expense claims to ensure that all claims are legitimate and in order. There is already such an anti-corruption body in New South Wales, and although abuse of entitlements may go unheard for a period of time - when entitlement abuse does get caught, the abuser has nowhere to run and is generally forced to resign from office and pay back the claimed expenses.
Secondly, as mentioned before, the entitlements themselves need to be more stringent so that an elected representative can't claim something as ridiculous as a short helicopter flight from Melbourne to Geelong for a political party fundraiser on entitlements.
Both of the two major parties bad when it comes to this, and because of this, Labor is compliant in simply attacking the person rather than calling for reform. They would much prefer to stay quiet on the actual issue rather than potentially make themselves look like hypocrites on the issue; as there are many Labor politicians who have their snouts firmly in the trough as well as those from the Liberal Party. In a similar vein, the Greens have attempted to introduce legislation on a number of occasions to establish a national anti-corruption watchdog, and it was voted down by both of the major parties in the Senate.
It is time to start getting serious about reform in this area, as it is clear that the current MP entitlements system is seriously broken. Without serious reform in this area, the cycle will merely continue regardless of whether it is the Liberals or Labor in government. Maybe the two major parties want to retain the status quo? That doesn't at all sound surprising. I personally call upon the major parties to show some leadership, owe up to your mistakes, then reform the entitlements system and establish an independent anti-corruption body so that this doesn't happen again. Instead of just talking about the need for reform, commit to it.
About the author:
Matt Hrkac is a writer and photographer based in Geelong. He has particular interests in politics, elections, social movements and the trade union movement.
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