Thursday, 16 February 2017
Senators' Interests Committee; Reference
That the following matter be referred to the Standing Committee of Senators' Interests for inquiry and report by 23 March 2017:
Whether the form of the register should be amended to include a declaration from senators as to whether they either:
(a) spend the money allocated to them known as an electorate allowance on their electorate and their electorate responsibilities, or
(b) take the money allocated to them known as an electorate allowance as a wage.
The electorate allowance which is determined by the independent Remuneration Tribunal is designed to meet unspecified costs that are necessarily incurred by senators in providing services to their constituents. There is a wide discretion for individual parliamentarians in how this allowance can be spent, as should be the case, as every electorate has different needs. Senators are advised in the handbook and the ruling from the Australian Taxation Office about the electorate allowance, and all senators should abide by this ruling.
The Australian Greens understand that the electorate allowance exists to allow members of parliament to conduct their parliamentary business to engage in electorate activities. One thing the electorate allowance is not intended for is to be used as a supplement to people's salaries. At the moment it is entirely possible—indeed, we know—that some members of parliament have used it in this way, as a way to ensure that people top up their salaries. That is not what the electorate allowance is intended for. It should be spent on the electorate; it should be spent on MPs going about their parliamentary business. If the government and the opposition—we all support this—want to ensure that this money is in fact being spent for those reasons then we need to have legislation in place or, at the very least, an inquiry looking into a way to enforce that ruling. At the moment MPs can pocket it without spending a cent on their electorate, and we do not think that is right.