Australia plans parliamentary expenses watchdog following latest scandal

13 Jan 17

Australia is to set up an independent body to monitor parliamentary expenses after the country’s health minister resigned amid a scandal over travel costs she is alleged to have claimed inappropriately.

 

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Sussan Ley, former Australian health minister. Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced he would create a parliamentary expenses watchdog after accepting the resignation of Sussan Ley (above), the now-ex health minister, who stood down after becoming embroiled in an entitlements scandal. Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat

 

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull accepted Sussan Ley’s resignation today. She had previously from her role as health minister while an investigation was carried out into her use of a taxpayer-funded trip to view and purchase a half-a-million dollar property at auction.

Accepting her resignation today, Turnbull announced “important changes” to the management of parliamentarians’ work expenses.

He said this should be overseen by an independent agency as it is in a number of other nations such as the UK, which was itself engulfed in a wide-reaching MP expenses scandal a few years ago.

An independent parliamentary expenses authority will be set up to act as a “compliance, reporting and transparency body”, explained Turnbull.

“It will monitor and adjudicate all claims by MPs, senators and ministers, ensuring taxpayers’ funds are spent appropriately and in compliance with the rules.”

In addition, the body will be governed by an independent board, which will include an experienced auditor, the president of the country’s Remuneration Tribunal, John Conde, a former judicial officer and a former MP.

As well as this, a system that manages entitlements will be “modernised” to allow the monthly, public disclosure of parliamentarians’ expenses in an “accessible, that is to say searchable, format”, Turnbull said.

“Australians are entitled to expect that politicians spend taxpayers’ money carefully, ensuring at all times that their work expenditure represents an efficient, effective and ethical use of public resources,” added the prime minister.

newspaper, the opposition Labour Party’s Penny Wong said her party supported the move “in principle”.

“I think Australians do want wholesale reform of this area, and they will want this body overseen by someone they have trust in,” she said.

Australia has seen a string of scandals over entitlements since 2014. They included MP Bronwyn Bishop, who resigned in 2015 after claiming A$5,000 ($3,746) to charter a helicopter to attend a political fundraiser, and former speaker of parliament Peter Slipper who was convicted in 2014 of using taxi allowances to visit wineries. The conviction was later overturned however.

The latest affair, engulfing now-ex health minister Ley, related to a number of taxpayer-funded trips to Australia’s east coast which were ostensibly for official business.

However, they also involved buying investment properties and attending New Year’s Eve parties.

In regards to the property auction, Ley explained that she did have official reasons for her travel but that she understands “this changed the context of the travel undertaken”.

She said the distinction between public and private business should be “as clear as possible” when taxpayer funds are involved, and described her attendance of the auction as unplanned and an “error of judgement”.

Turnbull said he will announce arrangements for her replacement next week.

  • Emma Rumney

    Emma is a reporter at Cooking Recipes International. She also writes for in the UK.

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