Government move to check MPs’ perks

A CRACKDOWN is looming on the use of entitlements by federal parliamentarians amid concerns current arrangements provide no clear boundaries of the purpose for which they can be accessed.

The Auditor General Ian McPhee announced the Australian National Audit Office would audit the delivery of improvements to the system it recommended in 2009 and which were agreed to by the Federal Department of Finance and Deregulations.

The audit office has found that shortcomings in the entitlement framework have not assisted Finance in its role, but has also noted that the department had adopted a relatively gentle approach to their administration.

The ANAO would also examine the administration of travel entitlements provided to parliamentarians by Finance, the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of the Senate.

It is anticipated the audit would examine the role played by the Remuneration Tribunal in setting various travel entitlements, the frameworks under which the various entitlements are provided and administered, analyse the use of the various entitlements and assess the effectiveness of the administrative arrangements that are in place.

The move comes three and a half years after the Federal Government agreed to a "root and branch" review of the entitlement framework and agreed to provide significant additional funds for the Department of Finance to improve its administration.

Member for Fisher Peter Slipper, who has a long history of criticism for his extravagent use of entitlements, faces court next month on three charges of fraud in relation to his use of Cabcharge vouchers. The charges allege Mr Slipper knowingly set out to misrepresent the use of his entitlements on three separate occasions in 2010.

In addition to their salaries, Australia's 150 federal parliamentarians and 76 senators were paid $162 million in entitlements in 2008-09 averaging $716,814 each and a further $169 million for staff costs.

The ANAO has found that travel claims made up a significant proportion of the cost of all entitlements provided to parliamentarians.

"At this stage, given our existing workload and staff availability, we expect the audit will be commenced as part of the ANAO's 2013-2014 audit program,'' Mr McPhee said.

The ANAO has previously found that a key shortcoming was the lack of a consistent approach to specifying the purpose for which entitlements may be used.

Where purposes were specified, it found the meaning of key terms such as Parliamentary business and electorate business has not been fully defined.

And the audit office is concerned that shortcomings in the framework establishing Parliamentarians' entitlements have been compounded by a system that involves limited accountability for entitlements use.

In particular, Parliamentarians are not required to respond to invitations that they certify their use of entitlements and there is a relatively low level of public reporting of entitlements expenditure.

Topics:  expenses politicians politics

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