Perks Rort: Forget The Politics, And Just Fix It

A FREE-FOR-ALL appears to have broken out following Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s resignation between Liberal MPs pursuing ALP MP Tony Burke and bent on vengeance, and Labor MPs attempting to pin the “entitlements” scandal on the Liberal Party by “revealing” other government MPs who’ve made dubious claims. The warring groups should grow up, set politics aside, and enact a fix to ensure this kind of thing can never occur again.

It may be indelicate (or even old-fashioned) to point this out, but the tit-for-tat brawling that is going on over politicians’ entitlements in the aftermath of Bronwyn Bishop’s resignation as Speaker is, at root, a fight over the “right” to waste taxpayers’ money: and it is an indictment on members of Parliament on all sides that such a cavalier attitude remains glaringly evident even after the first few unapologetic miscreants — and their indulgent misuse of public monies — have been outed.

And both within the ALP and among its knuckle-dragging operatives out in social media land and the wider community, what is being peddled as what they think is a cleverly, finely nuanced distinction to bury Liberals beneath a pile of steaming effluent — that Bronwyn Bishop breached parliamentary rules governing the use of travel entitlements whereas Labor’s Tony Burke, they claim, did not — is a hypocritical position indeed, and the fact any of them seek to justify, defend or legitimise what Burke has been doing marks them out as filthy specimens indeed.

Indeed, the distinction Labor types make in seeking to crucify Bishop and salvage Burke is nothing more than the difference between complete bullshit and absolute bullshit. Whichever way you cut it, it’s all shit. Only the buckets it’s served up in are different.

The simple fact is that some of the claims that have been aerated over the past month (and where there are some, there are invariably others) have, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott observed in relation to Bishop, fallen within parliamentary guidelines but outside community standards; one might have hoped this factual assessment on Abbott’s part signalled the intention to clean up parliamentary entitlements once and for all, but his stout defence of Bishop right up to the point he was threatened with a revolt by government MPs summarily dashed that hope.

On Labor’s part, the fact all the questionable claims relating to its own MPs are apparently OK whilst the Liberals should be hung, drawn and quartered for their transgressions shows the ALP is even further divorced from reality and community sentiment than Abbott is.

Let’s be clear: it is no more acceptable to the tax-paying public for Tony Burke to book a first-class airline cabin for him and his mistress (irrespective of whether she is also his staffer) whilst his other staff “slum” it in business class than it is for Bronwyn Bishop to spend $5,227 on a helicopter flight from Melbourne to Geelong when a 55-minute trip in a ComCar at a fraction of the cost would have sufficed.

It is no more acceptable to the tax-paying public for Tony Burke to have spent thousands of dollars taking his family to Ayers Rock on the pretext he was “working” than it is for Bronwyn Bishop to spend $6,000 on a charter flight from Sydney to Nowra instead of taking a two hour trip by car.

It should be clear I am going to allude anecdotally to Bishop and Burke only, in the interests of simplicity; and for the benefit of any reader who might be inclined to itemise out the alleged sins of other MPs — Coalition or Labor — I would appreciate any comments being kept to the issue at hand, rather than taking the opportunity to sink the boot into some MP from the party you vote against just to be trivial.

And unbridled outrages like all of the allegations against both Bishop and Burke — even if they actually fall within official guidelines, as most or all of them do — merely illustrate why those guidelines must be overhauled once and for all, for they do not comply with mainstream community thought in any way, shape, or form, so I don’t want to hear anything by way of spirited defence of your favourite MPs either.

Nobody expects their elected representatives to slum around in two-star hotels, or to fly on the likes of Tigerair or Jetstar, or to be conveyed in the filthy taxis driven around major Australian cities by newly arrived immigrants who have no clue where they are going without recourse to a street directory, although I’m beginning to wonder whether such a prescription of tough love is exactly what is indicated.

Either way, those we send to Canberra (and, to be clear, to Spring Street, Macquarie Street, North Terrace and all the other state and territory legislatures) are not royalty, they are not rock stars, they are not celebrity figures — and they neither merit nor warrant treatment as such.

I’ve said before that I am perfectly happy to defend MPs travelling to Canberra, for example, on business class airfares; common sense dictates that putting them down the back of aircraft in economy is going to make them targets, and even the most popular and/or competent politician is liable to encounter some surly drunk spoiling for a fight with “a damned politician.”

It follows, therefore, that their staff should fly business class as well: after all, at least some of their time flying together should be made productive by getting some work done, and especially if taxpayers are footing the bill.

But if an MP is going to be away for a few nights, should taxpayers also foot the bill for a spouse and kids to tag along? I think not.

Should an MP staying in Canberra be allowed to claim the “away from home” allowance if they are staying in a dwelling they (or their partners) own? I think not.

A certain former Speaker used to fly to Canberra using two flights in each direction even when direct options existed because it doubled the quantity of QANTAS frequent flyer points he was able to accrue. Is this acceptable, and should it be permitted? No, and no.

But it’s all OK in the end, it seems, because Burke saw fit to repay the $90 he incurred in ComCar charges to ferry himself to a rock concert: frankly, the fact he did so, whilst he and everyone around him fight to defend his more profligate but equally unacceptable indulgences upon the taxpayer, is a poke in the eye to anyone concerned with standards of behaviour from elected representatives, or probity where their entitlements are concerned. $90 is a piddling drop in a bucket. Burke may as well have not bothered. The repayment was incendiary for its blithe disregard for more serious abuses he stands accused of.

Janet Albrechtsen, writing in The Australian, nails part of the point when she says the system as it currently stands encourages MPs to rort the system because so much of its guidelines are etched in grey; vague to the point of misleading — perhaps deliberately so — the regulations governing politicians’ entitlements effectively green light the kind of extravagance and luxury most people can only dream of. It is only when ridiculous stories of helicopter flights, family holidays for MPs at taxpayer expense and the like surface that anyone really seems to care. And that, in short, isn’t right.

Albrechtsen is also right when she states, bluntly, that the system stinks. It does. Bishop had to resign or be replaced. So must Burke.

But as she notes, Bishop went — in fact, had to go — because her continued presence as Speaker in light of the revelations of her flagrant abuse of entitlements was damaging the Prime Minister’s leadership of the Liberal Party. In reality, she should have resigned because what she has done was morally and ethically indefensible. The same can be said of Burke. But it is a telling indictment on the way our elected representatives behave that the reason for punitive action is to stem the political damage and not because somebody has done the wrong thing.

In some respects, I’m amazed at the need to even have to spell this out, and just to be clear, there are innumerable other lurks, perks, goodies and junkets I could have taken aim at here.

The point is that the system of parliamentary entitlements is rotten to its core, and whilst Labor is just as culpable as the Coalition or anyone else — and Communists Greens who think all of this is a lark should start rustling up the cash to reimburse Sarah Hanson-Young’s pompously self-important, attention-seeking, troublemaking international field trips — it is the Coalition that finds itself in office, and to whom responsibility for fixing this mess once and for all falls.

When so-called Choppergate was at its zenith, I made a call in this column for a new entity — a Parliamentary Travel and Expenses Commission — to be set up, at arms’ length from the government of the day, to independently oversee and scrutinise expense claims from MPs for accommodation, transportation and other items that too regularly end up at the epicentre of a scandal because someone’s fingers have been in the till, however “legitimately,” to an extent that utterly offends expectations of decency, accountability and prudence from the wider community.

I stand by that call, and whilst one reader commented to the effect that “another bloody bureaucracy” was the last thing we need — and that MPs should simply “do what business does” — the regrettable reality seems to be that MPs as a group appear incapable of exercising any other instinct than the inclination to as much largesse as they can get away with (so I’m sorry, JohnB, but as much as I share your extreme distaste for bureaucracy and whilst I’d like to agree with you, I can’t).

But at the risk of expecting too much from politicians, entitlement codes could be standardised between the states and the Commonwealth, and a single independent PTEC charged with oversight of the lot: at least it would be just one additional bureaucracy, and there would be no ambiguity whatsoever about what constitutes acceptable conduct or otherwise.

Now, Abbott says MPs’ expenses should be treated “like businesses do;” one would hope he’s talking about the ordinary employees who get the odd hotel stay or airfare reimbursed, rather than the executives on company boards who make the largesse of politicians that everyone wants to sling muck over look positively plebeian by comparison.

Even so, it’s a start: and those still trying to score cheap and petty political points out of all of this need to lay down their arms, behave like mature adults rather than kindy kids, and come up with something that fixes this mess once and for all, and which nudges what politicians can and can’t bill to the taxpayer onto a far more modest and reasonable footing.

Everyone involved should bear one thing in mind: just because it’s “legitimate” now doesn’t make it right.

Finally, and for what it’s worth, Tony Burke should quit the Labor frontbench: it’s one thing to talk of amnesties and a cessation of political hostilities, but as the chief protagonist and noisiest outrage merchant where Bishop’s activities were concerned, he has forfeited any right to be shown leniency now his own avaricious conduct has been laid bare for all to see.


Free Drug Trafficking Immigrant? Shorten Must Fire Burke

IN WHAT RANKS as one of the most brazen acts of political stupidity in some time, ALP frontbencher Tony Burke last month wrote to Immigration minister Scott Morrison “on behalf of a constituent” who sought the release of her partner: a serial importer and distributor of narcotics, who arrived in 2000 on a three-month visa, who has avoided deportation ever since. The drug peddler should be deported. Burke should either resign or be sacked.

At the outset, let me be emphatic: whilst I will take aim at an absolute grub in today’s column, my remarks should in no way be seen as reflective on all immigrants, asylum seekers, or others who arrive in this country, although with incidents like this one it’s not hard to see why the anti-immigration crowd has so little trouble attracting fresh disciples.

The story of convicted Nigerian drug trafficker Drichuckuv Nweke — reported today in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — would be laughable were it not so serious; how the apparent sequence of events has culminated in its article today is unbelievable, and would do any eminent writer of fiction credit had they penned the story themselves.

Readers can see the Tele‘s article here, and it’s immediately obvious to me that Labor “leader” Bill Shorten must sack Tony Burke if he won’t go voluntarily.

If there are grounds in Australian law to permit someone who illegally overstayed a visa, was convicted of importing 5kg of cocaine and 140kg of ice, and was able to rack up a multitude of drink driving offences to avoid deportation, then Immigration minister Scott Morrison’s first job this morning should be to draft amendments to the relevant legislation and to have Nweke thrown out of Australia at the earliest possible date.

There is no defensible argument to suggest that a filthy specimen who peddles illicit drugs at will (and whilst imprisoned for his crimes, no less) should be permitted to remain in Australia for a moment longer than it takes to get rid of him, and if the compassion-babbling, chardonnay-swilling bullshit brigade and other bleeding hearts on the Left have a problem with that statement, then I really couldn’t care less.

I think there are community standards that frown — rightly — on those who profit from human misery, injury and death, and anyone who doesn’t believe these substances lead to such consequences should go and talk to any accident and emergency doctor, who will quickly set them straight.

In truth, the fact this guy is a foreign national should offer one very big positive — the ability to throw him out of Australia and rid the place of one more drug baron. Instead, Nweke appears to have been able to stave off deportation for more than a decade whilst simultaneously serving jail time for drug offences and committing new ones, and far from it being a legal victory for Nweke that he has been able to do so, it’s a national outrage that there are grounds in law to uphold his appeals and delay — apparently indefinitely — the one-way, permanent ticket back to Africa he so richly deserves.

The story that Nweke has sought release at the behest of his partner — among other things because she has health problems and is concerned about the welfare of their young son — should be the least of Immigration officials’ concerns.

But the intervention in this of Burke — who claimed his letter did not amount to making representations on the woman’s behalf, despite the excerpt published in the Tele suggesting in the clearest manner possible that it did — is unfathomable.

Some will accuse me of being hard-hearted in saying so, but the punishment of a drug trafficker (and a seemingly major one at that) is a higher priority for Commonwealth law enforcement agencies than the welfare of his partner and their son.

More to the point, and were it required, some form of care and/or assistance could be arranged for the partner (and her son) and the drug thug deported; these are mutually exclusive considerations. It is not necessary for the drug thug to be released “into Community Detention.” Frankly, if they feel so strongly about it, then they can go with him too.

Community detention — as an aside — is no more than a slap on the wrist, in relative terms, for a recidivist drug criminal, and in the context of a case such as this the prospect of it is a national outrage.

Yet Burke, who is spoken of in some circles as a potential future Labor leader, seems to have waded into this controversy without due regard to either the gravity of the offences in question or the expectations of the wider Australian community he serves.

He has shown incompetence (to say nothing of an appalling lack of judgement) and he should resign.

If he won’t, then Bill Shorten must sack him from Labor’s front bench.

Life is rich in irony, and political life especially so; just as the Shorten-“led” ALP is making merry hell trying to rip Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership apart by the most questionable of means, along comes a test of its own mettle and its own loftily proclaimed standards.

If Burke hasn’t left the Labor frontbench by the end of the day — preferably with the print from one of Shorten’s boots firmly implanted on his backside to make the point emphatic — then this will be yet another instance of Labor’s prescriptions of high moral standards for others that it, itself, falls drastically short of upholding.

The Tele was right: Kelvin Thomson, then Labor’s shadow Attorney-General, was forced to resign some years ago after writing a reference for another drug fugitive — Tony Mokbel. And the point that the Thomson episode should have served as a warning to all MPs is well made, albeit obviously not heeded in this case.

This country does not need to be importing drug problems from other countries, and not least when the offending miscreant’s presence here was never really legal in the first place: a three-month visa is precisely that, and 13 years on he’s still here. A spousal visa might have solved some of Nweke’s woes, but even that was cancelled three years ago following one of his convictions, and now Morrison must see to it that Nweke is booted out as quickly (and as ruthlessly) as possible.

As for Burke, Australia doesn’t need parliamentary representatives whose actions show any form of tolerance toward the likes of Nweke.

Thomson paid a high price over the Mokbel incident. For his stupidity, it is now time for Burke to suffer the same fate.



Arrogant ALP Declares Victory Over People Smugglers

DANGEROUS LANGUAGE from the ALP on the vexed issue of asylum seekers threatens to blow up in its face, and trigger a fresh wave of arrivals by sea; a fall in the number of boats arriving in the past month is being presented as a victory, but Labor’s haste to shut the issue down is premature.

I’m going to be a little busy over the next couple of days which may limit the amount I am able to publish, but having seen this issue bob up in today’s papers I wanted to share some thoughts with readers this morning.

A fall in the number of people arriving by boat in August to 1585 — down from 4236 the previous month — is being presented as a win over people smugglers, with Immigration minister Tony Burke saying the government has “broken the back” of people smuggling.

Readers can access two articles, carried in Murdoch papers today, here and here.

I would simply point out that with an election four days away — and the rattled, panicking ALP desperate to blow up issues around its opponents, and to shut down its own policy disasters — Labor seems too hurried in its eagerness to declare its PNG Solution a success.

After all, we’ve been down this road on asylum seeker policy with the government many times now.

And it seems — given the material covered by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — that not only are people smugglers very much still in operation, but adapting their methods to circumvent the government’s latest suite of policies on the issue.

If anything, revelations attributed to Australian Customs and Border Protection that it is unaware of new people smuggling measures, such as speedboats to cut the travel time and risk at sea for wealthy customers, should be viewed as a source of alarm, not triumphalism.

The rate of boat arrivals in Australian waters — whilst certainly trending progressively higher since the Howard government’s Pacific Solution was abolished in 2008 — has invariably waxed and waned.

And to this end, opposition spokesman for Immigration, Scott Morrison, is probably right to point out that a number of factors — such as the weather, Ramadan, and a short-term “wait and see” approach to the announcement of the PNG Solution — could all be temporary factors at work insofar as the recent decline in arrival numbers is concerned.

An imminent touted wave of asylum seekers, originating in Syria, is likely to test Burke’s assertions as well.

I think it’s dangerous ground for the present government to tread in trying to flag “victory” over people smuggling in these circumstances.

It’s clear that the otherwise empty-handed Labor Party strategists have fixed upon the PNG Solution as offering the government some kind of “Tampa moment” reminiscent of the very issue whose occurrence in 2001 helped seal the re-election of John Howard’s government to a third term.

At the very minimum, the government could be seen to be waving the red rag at people smugglers and only adding to their incentive to continue the abominable and often tragic trade in human misery — and lives — in doing so.

And the apparent new Labor approach continues a pattern of seeking to win votes from cleaning up the very disasters it engineered, and allowed to fester, in the first place.

Kevin Rudd’s deceptive “termination” of the carbon tax — which is to be replaced with a floating price tied to European markets, and predicted to rise to roughly double the fixed price within five years — is another example of the same phenomenon.

I think this arrogant and premature declaration that the battle over asylum seekers and people smugglers has been won won’t make a tinker’s cuss of difference to Labor’s electoral fortunes; in fact, with the tide ostensibly already running against Labor, it may exacerbate the disintegration of the ALP vote even further.

In the final analysis, however, Kevin Rudd and his ministers aren’t going to carry the responsibility for dealing with this issue after Saturday.

And for that reason alone, this declaration of victory should be regarded with contempt.