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Thursday, 30 November 2000
Page: 23194

Mr WILKIE (5:39 PM) —Last week I received information relating to the use of entitlements in my office. Since then I have searched the records of my office. I have examined relevant entitlement guidelines and I have questioned my staff. I have also sought advice from senior parliamentary colleagues about the most appropriate way to proceed. I have decided that circumstances warrant me making a voluntary repayment to the Department of Finance and Administration. I am conscious of the precedent set by the now Special Minister of State, Senator Ellison. In 1998, Senator Ellison made a repayment to DOFA of $9,063 for charter allowance claims over which some doubt existed as to their compliance with guidelines.

I have also decided to put this matter on the public record, given the high level of public interest in matters relating to MPs' entitlements. Accordingly, I inform the House that this afternoon I have sent the following letter to the General Manager of Ministerial and Parliamentary Services in the Department of Finance and Administration:

Mr Roger Fisher

General Manager

Ministerial and Parliamentary Services

Department of Finance and Public Administration

Canberra ACT 2601

Dear Mr Fisher

It has recently come to my attention that a member of my staff has lodged three claims for reimbursement of private vehicle usage in my absence from the electorate office without appropriate authorisation.

This has led me to review my office procedures for the administration of this allowance. I have consulted the guidelines on the use of this entitlement, examined my office records of such claims and questioned my staff in relation to these claims.

I have regretfully come to the conclusion that the verification procedures I have employed have not been sufficiently rigorous. I have also discovered, in consulting the Guide to the Members of Parliament Staff Certified Agreement that I am required to authorise an employee to use a private vehicle for official purposes in advance of travel. I have been authorising the claims after the travel has been undertaken.

I note that the guide is dated 23 December 1999 and I am unsure whether advance authorisation was a requirement prior to this date. However, even if it was not, there are sufficient defects in the administration of these claims in my office from the time I became a member of parliament to undermine my confidence in my office systems.

In the circumstances I would be grateful if you would advise me as a matter of urgency of the total amount of Private/Motor Vehicle Allowance which has been paid to staff in my office, since October 1998.

It is my intention to repay this amount. Depending on the quantum, I may need to do so in instalments, which I will discuss with you subsequently.

I have also informed my staff that I will no longer be authorising any claims for reimbursement of expenses for private vehicle usage. Instead I have recommended that any such expenses, duly documented, be claimed as tax deductions for work-related expenses.

I am also considering what disciplinary action might be appropriate in these circumstances and will advise you further following discussions with my staff.

I have consulted with senior members of the Opposition on this matter and have taken their guidance into account in writing to you.

Yours sincerely

Kim Wilkie

30 November 2000