MPs able to get around caps on office expense allowances
FEDERAL politicians will be able to exceed caps on some of their office-related parliamentary entitlements under changes to the scheme.
The changes, registered on the final day of the winter sitting almost two weeks ago, also create a $10,000 entitlement for MPs to buy Australian flags.
Under the move a new "office budget" has been created.
It combines the current separate allowances for stationery, publications, printing and communications and flags into a single pool.
The $900 cap that politicians had for small desk or handheld flags has been increased to $10,000 and their existing entitlement to claim for the cost of up to 50 large flags is incorporated into that $10,000 allowance
However, parliamentarians' overall "office budget" entitlements - worth about $97,000 for Senators and $270,000 for Members of the House of Representatives - will not be increased other than through indexation.
But politicians will be able to use their entitlements for any purpose included in the new "office budget", a spokesman for Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said.
That means, for instance, Members of the House of Representatives could bypass the $216,000 limit on printing and communications each year by using other entitlements, effectively circumventing the caps.
Australian National University political expert Dr John Wanna said as the changes came from the government, they had the implicit support of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
He said it was unlikely the Opposition would oppose the changes as they were in the interest of all politicians, no matter their political persuasion.
A spokesman for Mr Ronaldson said the changes would help streamline the entitlements system and "reduce the administrative burden" on federal politicians.
But he said the transparency of entitlements would remain the same as six-monthly reports would still include itemised expenses.
Although active from July 1, the changes are subject to a disallowance motion when parliament next sits.