The question I have been asked most frequently this week is why do some MPs use their allowances to fund their trips to weddings and sporting events. I obviously can’t answer that question.
I do think that the best way to stop these abuses is for the rules to be tightened and to require information on how MPs spend their money made publicly available in a timely fashion. In this era of electronic records there is no justification for delays and secrecy.
Such a system does exist. If you go to the website of the Scottish Parliament you can find out details of MPs allowances and there is a button where you can find out exactly how much each MP spent out of each allowance and what it was spent on.
The Australian parliamentary website has no such easy-to-read information. Some information is provided about entitlements, but it is difficult to access and in a format that makes it hard to analyse. The Greens are working to change this.
I share the growing public concern about the lack of public disclosure on how MPs use public money. What is very relevant is that Labor and the Coalition have a long history of working together to limit scrutiny of how MPs spend their allowances, and a few months back they turned the clock back on improving transparency.
The latest round of collaboration between the major parties was in June when they voted together to pass the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Freedom of Information) Bill. Despite the FOI friendly title this legislation is another roadblock on public disclosure of the $170 million administered annually on parliament and spent on MPs’ allowances.
One of the Greens amendments if passed would have allowed FOI coverage of salaries for MPs, electorate allowances, superannuation and services and facilities to support parliamentarians. All the Greens amendments were opposed by Labor and the Coalition including a requirement for MPs to proactively link their website to their individual expenditure reports on the Finance website.
For more on the MP expenses saga -
Australia's FOI laws are a poor cousin of those in Scotland, Britain, India, South Africa and Mexico.
Greater public scrutiny via stronger FOI laws would help limit MPs misusing their allowances. Putting MPs into the spotlight of public opinion is probably the best way to reduce these abuses.