How Vague are the the Entitlements of Federal MP’s? Is the System broken?

 

Yes this is about Bronwyn who cost the Taxpayer $6934.92 on 5 Nov 2014. In a mixture of flights to and from Melbourne, Car costs, an Overnight stay and the celebrated Helicopter ride.

In October 2013 I wrote the following as a part of a larger article discussing the political machinations of the time. Mainly to do with the way Pater Slipper was being treated and the way Tony Abbott was claiming entitlements he wasn’t entitled to under the rules.

The rules are a not a moving feast. They are set out precisely. If Members and Senators don’t understand them they should ask the relevant people for guidance. At the present Senators and Members are entitled to travelling allowance in accordance with Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2014/16.

When I originally wrote this in 2013 the Determination was 2012/19

My first comment about this story (or stories) is that this issue proves the fact that there is no 24 hour media cycle. What there is is a complete mess in the reporting of the usage of Public money by the Main stream media. In essence they write about a subject which they know nothing about and show no particular interest in actually finding out.

All they appear to do is to go with the press releases and stories of their ilk, who haven’t done any study either. We are really poorly served by this bunch. They, like the Politicians they report on take their public for granted.

My original Article started here. Link to original Article which was much more comprehensive.

I was asked to start examining expenses several months ago, when the Slipper business came up, but the Federal Election intervened and I was busy helping the Local Federal candidate to get elected, so didn’t write anything about it.

However the Social Media and Independent Australia were on the ball before July of this year (2013) with the following article.

http://www.independentaustralia.net/2013/politics/tony-abbotts-dodgy-pollie-pedal-expense-claims/

And leads onto another article published in IA at the beginning of the year.

http://www.independentaustralia.net/2013/politics/if-slipper-is-guilty-then-what-about-abbott/

So the story has been around for a long, long time.

Then this month (in 2013) we read about Julie Bishop and Senator Barnaby Joyce flying to India courtesy of Gina Rinehart then claiming off the public purse.

Joyce ended up in Kuala Lumpur, where he met with two people from Malaysian Government departments in an afternoon. At locations which are 38 kms apart (one at 12noon and the second at 3pm).

That night he flew out at 10pm.

So he spent a maximum of 7 hours (but probably a lot less) to charge the public purse for his return from the wedding in India. All of this is detailed in the 6 page document he is obliged to write as part of his study tour obligations.

An exercise in cynicism? Yes, I think so. Is he entitled to the reimbursement of his expenses for this trip, yes probably, by the rules, but morally, not in my opinion?

Then we hear about Tony Abbott and all of his expense claims and the furore as to whether he is entitled to them.

Lets get to the place none of the journalists have been and that is the document which governs entitlements for all MP’s.

Here is the link to the latest determination, (2012/19) which covered some of Abbott’s claims discussed below. Other claims would have to be examined against older determinations.

The relevant clause in relation to Tony Abbott and his claims is para 3.8

Ministers of State (other than the Prime Minister) and Office Holders

 

3.8 Travelling allowance shall be payable to a Minister (other than the Prime Minister)

or an office holder for each overnight stay in a place other than his or her home

base when that stay is occasioned primarily by:

(a)sittings of the House of Parliament or direct travel to or from such sittings; or

(b) official business as a Minister or as an office holder; or

(c) meetings of, or the formal business of, parliamentary committees of which he

or she is a member or direct travel to or from such meetings; or

(d) meetings in Canberra of his or her parliamentary political party, of its

executive or of its committees (see clause 1.5.2) or direct travel to or from

such meetings; or

(e) meetings of his or her parliamentary political party executive (see clause

1.5.2) outside Canberra or direct travel to pr from such meetings; or

(f) meetings, other than in Canberra, of a parliamentary political party, or of its

executive, or of its committees, and attendance at the national and state

conferences of a political party, of which he or she is a member (see clause

1.5.2), and meetings outside the electorate on electorate business up to a

maximum of ten overnight stays per annum in total, and direct travel to or

from such meetings or conferences.

Lets go through the thing like a lawyer should in relation to the Pollie Pedal or the Ironman stuff.

The first thing to do is see if Abbott is an office holder? Yep, he was the Leader of the Opposition.

So lets see if he was in other than his own home? Yes, he was when he claimed.

Now we have to determine if that stay was ‘occasioned primarily by’

  • sittings of the House of Parliament or direct travel to or from such sittings; or

the answer to this clause is clearly NO.

(b) official business as a Minister or as an office holder; or

This is an interesting one. The main part of the clause states office holders. Tony Abbott is the holder of the office of Leader of the Opposition. What is the official business of the office holder of the Leader of the Opposition?

Well the reasonable man would expect it to be the prosecution of opposition policy. Against those policies which are not bi-partisan between parties.

So is Abbott’s primary purpose to prosecute his policy initiatives on these Sporting events? The answer to that surely would be the amount of time he spends actually doing the sport and the amount of time he spends espousing his policies.

So what do I think?

Well the primary purpose of an office holder of the Leader of the Opposition Office can be done in much more elegant and cheaper and arguably more successful ways than seeing him ride a bicycle along a road whilst not saying a word.

So the primary purpose is not as an office holder at all. It’s as a sporting event. So in my opinion he should not be allowed to claim for the event and is not and never has been entitled to claim.

(c) meetings of, or the formal business of, parliamentary committees of which he

or she is a member or direct travel to or from such meetings; or

This clause does not cover Sporting events

(d) meetings in Canberra of his or her parliamentary political party, of its

executive or of its committees (see clause 1.5.2) or direct travel to or from

such meetings; or

This clause does not cover Sporting events

(e) meetings of his or her parliamentary political party executive (see clause

1.5.2) outside Canberra or direct travel to or from such meetings; or

This clause does not cover Sporting events

(f) meetings, other than in Canberra, of a parliamentary political party, or of its

executive, or of its committees, and attendance at the National and State

conferences of a political party, of which he or she is a member (see clause

1.5.2), and meetings outside the electorate on electorate business up to a

maximum of ten overnight stays per annum in total, and direct travel to or

from such meetings or conferences.

This clause does not cover Sporting events

Conclusion:

Certainly 5 of the above clauses do not support Tony Abbott claiming travel allowance.

And to be fair, his expense claims actually say “Official business Office holder” so the only clause which might cover Abbott is 3.8 (b). The argument is then whether the PRIMARY purpose of the claim is OFFICIAL BUSINESS AS AN OFFICE HOLDER.

Riding a bicycle for hours on end from one place to another with short stops in between where he may give a short press statement shows that the PRIMARY purpose of the activity is for sport and not his official business as an office holder.

If he held the office of the president of the Cycling Federation of Australia and they had 3.8 (b) in their rules then he would be entitled to claim, but he is a politician and not a cyclist.

Using this logic, ask yourself if Barnaby Joyce’s primary purpose in his travel to Malaysia (about 24 hours) was as a politician and office holder or was it just a means to an end getting paid for the trip back from the wedding in India.

Ask Philip Ruddock the same question. Did you attend the wedding as a guest or as a politician, what office holder obligations did you discharge at that wedding and if you did discharge any were they your primary purpose?

Ask Tony Abbott the question about attending a wedding of his own side. Did he go for the primary purpose of his office or as a guest at the wedding? The same with George Brandis –what office holder duties did you primarily go to Peter Slipper’s wedding for?

It looks very much to me like we aren’t being well served by our political appointees and we are being particularly badly served by the self appointed press scrutineers.

To me the issue is clear cut. If you follow the logic of the rules the primary purpose of an office holder who is a politician, is politics, not cycling.

The politicians are claiming money they are not entitled to and the press are not reporting it.

Bloody poor form all around old boy!

Here ends the Original article excerpt.

 

So now onto the new furore about the entitlements of the Parliamentarians and their travel allowances. Today it is August 2015 which is almost 2 years since I wrote in detail about the rules governing the Traveling allowances of Parliamentarians.

As stated above the latest determination is 2014/19.

And low and behold the clause which covers Bronwyn Bishop’s Travel allowance for the evening spent in Melbourne is 3.8. (Section 3.8 hasn’t changed since I wrote the original post.)

The use of the charter aircraft (her use of the Helicopter ride from Melbourne to Just outside of Geelong) is covered in 2012/04 as amended from time to time by other determination’ the latest being 2014/23. The clauses in that document which covers Entitlements are covered under Part 7 of this determination.

Determination 2012/04:

Members of Parliament – Entitlements

PART 7 – CHARTER AIRCRAFT/DRIVE YOURSELF VEHICLES

7.1 ‘Charter transport’ includes the hire of charter aircraft and such other modes

of transport as may be reasonable in the circumstances within and for the

service of the electorate. It includes the hire of an accredited driver to provide

relief driving services for a senator or member independent of car hire

arrangements. Family members and personal or electoral staff are not permitted

to provide accredited driver services. The entitlement does not extend to the

use of taxis or hire cars in the metropolitan areas of capital citites. (not my spelling mistake)

So lets put some context behind The Honourable Bronwyn’s travel. From her report of the travel on the Dept of Finance Web site.

Overnight Stay

3 Nov 14 3 Nov 14 Melbourne Speaker – Official Business 1 $435.00 $435.00

4 Nov 14 4 Nov 14 Gold Coast Speaker – Official Business 1 $360.00 $360.00

5 Nov 14 5 Nov 14 Melbourne Speaker – Official Business 1 $435.00 $435.00

 

Travel Fares.

3 Nov 14 – Sydney to Melbourne $577.85

4 Nov 14 – Melbourne to Coolangatta $494.66

5 Nov 14 – Coolangatta to Melbourne $376.15

6 Nov 14 – Melbourne to Sydney $650.40

Charter

Office Holder

Details Amount Notes

Melbourne to Geelong 5 Nov 14 $5,227.27

Geelong to Melbourne 5 Nov 14

$5,227.27

 

Comcar costs.

3 Nov 14 – Sydney $108.40

3 Nov 14 – Melbourne $43.90

4 Nov 14 – Melbourne $120.52

4 Nov 14 – Melbourne $88.36

4 Nov 14 – Brisbane $85.00

5 Nov 14 – Brisbane $85.00

5 Nov 14 – Melbourne $161.10

5 Nov 14 – Melbourne $52.40

6 Nov 14 – Melbourne $86.46

6 Nov 14 – Melbourne $97.70

Clearly She is covered by the section 3.8 of the

Determination 2014/16: Members of Parliament – Travelling Allowance

And if that is ok then she is entitled to claim under the

Determination 2012/04:

Members of Parliament – Entitlements (as amended)

So let’s look at this forensically. Is she entitled to claim Travel allowance?

She has claimed for the overnight stay on 5th November 2014 as Official Business. (see above).

What was the reason that she was down in Melbourne on 5th November 2014. What was the Official Business? Well we know that she hired a Helicopter and flew the 80 odd kilometers to a Golf course at Clifton Springs near Geelong. But was that for official Business?

One would assume that the Official business done on behalf of the people of Australia would be recorded somewhere. Maybe on a web site. So I searched = using Google. I could not find any definition of Official Business. But I did find a piece at the conversation by Alan Fels. Which uses the same argument I did in October 2013.. BUT that only relates to Travelling allowance and the charter of a helicopter is not covered there. It is covered by the Entitlements document.

Where he is right of course is that if the travelling allowance isn’t official business then she can’t claim any entitlement for charter because she isn’t officially there.

I seriously don’t think any of what she was doing was in either camp and I think she should be investigated by the Australian federal police for potential crimes.

We should start with the one Slipper was charged with.

135.1 General dishonesty

Obtaining a gain

(5) A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a) the person dishonestly causes a loss, or dishonestly causes a

risk of loss, to another person; and

(b) the first-mentioned person knows or believes that the loss

will occur or that there is a substantial risk of the loss

occurring; and

(c) the other person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 5 years

Secondly we should look at Fraud.

135.1 General dishonesty

Obtaining a gain

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a) the person does anything with the intention of dishonestly

obtaining a gain from another person; and

(b) the other person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 5 years.

Division 134—Obtaining property or a financial advantage

by deception

134.1 Obtaining property by deception

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a) the person, by a deception, dishonestly obtains property

belonging to another with the intention of permanently

depriving the other of the property; and

(b) the property belongs to a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

(2) Absolute liability applies to the paragraph (1)(b) element of the

offence.

Obtaining property

(3) For the purposes of this section (and for the purposes of the

application of section 132.1 to this section), a person (the first

person) is taken to have obtained property if, and only if:

(a) the first person obtains ownership, possession or control of it

for himself or herself or for another person; or

(b) the first person enables ownership, possession or control of it

to be retained by himself or herself; or

(c) the first person induces a third person to pass ownership,

possession or control of it to another person; or

(d) the first person induces a third person to enable another

person to retain ownership, possession or control of it; or

(e) subsection (9) or (10) applies.

(4) The definition of obtaining in section 130.1 does not apply for the

purposes of this section (or for the purposes of the application of

section 132.1 to this section).

(5) For the purposes of this section, a person’s obtaining of property

belonging to another may be dishonest even if the person or

another person is willing to pay for the property.

Division 131—Theft

131.1 Theft

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a) the person dishonestly appropriates property belonging to

another with the intention of permanently depriving the other

of the property; and

(b) the property belongs to a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

131.2 Special rules about the meaning of dishonesty

(1) For the purposes of this Division, a person’s appropriation of

property belonging to another is taken not to be dishonest if the

person appropriates the property in the belief that the person to

whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking

reasonable steps.

(2) However, the rule in subsection (1) does not apply if the person

appropriating the property held it as trustee or personal

representative.

(3) For the purposes of this Division, a person’s appropriation of

property belonging to another may be dishonest even if the person

or another person is willing to pay for the property.

So having regard to the facts, which are only available from The Honourable member, we are unable to ascertain whether or not any offence has been committed. The only people who can do that are the federal Police.

On M’s Bishop’s web site it states she had the following:-

Qualifications and occupation before entering Federal Parliament

  • Solicitor.
  • Company director.

I looked up the duties of Solicitors in New South Wales and it’s an interesting read.

I will leave it to the reader to see if M’s Bishop would fulfil those duties.

Of course lawyers and Solicitors are trained to understand the meaning and interpretation of clauses and documents. If they don’t they actually go and ask for expert help. That is why barristers exist.

Personally and as an Ex copper, I would have loved this to have come my way. As far as I am concerned it may merit a charge of dishonesty once a proper investigation has been done by the proper authority.

Finally, It’s time for an Independent Commission against Corruption at a federal level.

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2 thoughts on “How Vague are the the Entitlements of Federal MP’s? Is the System broken?

  1. Abbott’s track record is far from clean & although there must be many others in parliament who have taken to using public funds to feather their own nests its this current mob who have taken things to the limit of public acceptance.
    I personally would love a federal ICAC to put a stop to this rorting once & for all.
    Great article by the way Vince. Hope we can keep the pressure on TA & co right up to the next election whenever it is.

  2. Thanks Sandra. I had a good twitter battle with a Liberal MP from NSW called Peter Phelps today. Invited him to rebut my article which he said was poorly written and my analysis flawed. He then said he would if i would place it immediately after my article. I have no problem with that as long as i’ts truthful and not offensive.

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