Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Parliamentary Entitlements Amendment Regulations
That Schedules 1 and 3 to the Parliamentary Entitlements Amendment Regulations 2006 (No. 1), as contained in Select Legislative Instrument 2006 No. 211 and made under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990, be disallowed.
This is a government that cheats. Government members parade and strut around here like winners, but they do not believe in a fair contest. When they are not using steroids, they are tampering with the ball. Here they are on steroids—taxpayer funded steroids. These regulations should be disallowed because they give incumbent MPs an unfair advantage over challengers. Presently, all House of Representatives MPs have an annual printing allowance of $125,000. It is a lot of money. No MP can seriously claim that it is not enough to communicate regularly with their electorate. I write to my electorate four times a year. The cost of doing that is significantly less than $100,000. No case has been made out as to why an increase is needed or warranted, yet the government propose to increase the allowance to $150,000. This is extravagant and wasteful. It will lead to glossy publications and gimmicks like fridge magnets rather than any more serious communication endeavours. It encourages a cavalier and spendthrift attitude to taxpayers’ money, and taxpayers are entitled to expect that their dollars will be used in a wise and frugal way and that politicians will take the lead and set a good example in these matters.
If all this regulation did was to increase the entitlement from $125,000 to $150,000 a year, I would not support it. Labor opposed the government’s previous attempt to lift the cap to $150,000 and did so successfully prior to the government’s gaining control of the Senate. But this regulation is not merely wasteful of taxpayers’ money; it is sinister. It allows MPs to roll over up to 45 per cent, or $67½ thousand, of unspent funds from their printing entitlements into the next year’s entitlement. At present, if you do not spend your full $125,000, that money stays in consolidated revenue. The taxpayer keeps it. But MPs can now build up a war chest for election campaigns. Next year, for example, MPs could have an entitlement of anything up to $217½ thousand, and they could spend all of it during an election campaign—the whole lot. This is what this regulation is all about: building a moat around incumbent MPs, turning each electorate into an impregnable fortress and using taxpayers’ dollars to do it. Anyone who wants to challenge a sitting MP starts out anything up to $200,000 behind. It is not a fair contest. The government does not believe in a fair contest.
This comes at the same time as the government has made clear that there are basically no constraints on the capacity of MPs to use the allowance for campaigning purposes, for themselves and indeed for others. This has progressively been creeping into the system. In years gone by, printing allowances were not supposed to be used for campaigning for your own re-election. In the various states rules like that can still be found. In my own state of Victoria MPs are not allowed to use their taxpayer funded printing entitlement—which, by the way, is far more modest than the Commonwealth one—during the forthcoming state election campaign period. But here there is no such restriction, and this regulation expressly sets out that MPs can use their printing entitlement to print postal vote applications and how-to-vote cards. It is open slather on campaigning. Anything goes.
The government does not even restrict members to using their entitlement to campaign for themselves. Federal Liberal Party members use it to campaign during state elections. A couple of days before the Queensland state election, many Queensland voters received correspondence. You might expect that they would receive correspondence from state MPs and candidates just a sleep or two out from a state election, but it in fact the correspondence was not from their state MPs or candidates; it was from their federal MP. What issue were they writing about and why did they choose to write at this time, you might ask. I am glad that the Liberal member for Dickson is at the table, because I have a piece of correspondence which came from him. He commences as follows:
Having lived in Queensland all my life and now raising a young family, I am deeply concerned at how Peter Beattie has allowed our health system to reach breaking point.
The member for Dickson goes on to mention Peter Beattie on no fewer than six occasions—none of them flattering. The member for Dickson goes on to say:
After 8 years, Labor still has not done the hard work to develop a credible plan to fix their health mess. Residents in Pine Rivers deserve better.
Now, just in case the message is not clear enough already as to what the member for Dickson is on about, he then says:
I have been working with James Petterson, local candidate for Ferny Grove, on health issues in our area for some time now. I know that James Petterson understands the real health needs for Ferny Grove and will work hard to get things done.
Now, if that letter is not all about the Queensland state election, urging a vote for Mr Petterson, I’ll go he for tiggy!
The government says there is a 70-30 rule whereby you can talk about candidates for election apart from yourself provided that does not involve more than 30 per cent of the publication. The truth is that touting for the election of Mr Petterson was 100 per cent of what the member for Dickson’s letter was about. The member for Dickson was not the only Queensland federal Liberal MP to get the writing bug during the last week of the Queensland state election campaign.