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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1276

Senator RYAN (VictoriaSpecial Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (19:16): I will be brief in my response. Senator Xenophon rightly gives credit to the fact that this bill needs to be seen as part of a wider suite of measures. It is the first of several bills coming before parliament, the second of which will be coming forward later this evening. This bill includes a 25 per cent penalty. I think it is important to take note, at this point, of the thousands of claims that are made for flights, for allowance to travel and for other expenses that are conducted by members of parliament in their work. We have to recognise that this is a large country. This is not the United States. We do not want to move our members of parliament and our families to Washington or, in this case, to Canberra, and we do want our members of parliament to be accessible to their communities and, in the case of the Senate, accessible to their state.

I actually think that, in the context of the scale of the work that the parliament undertakes and the scale of the travel, it is important that we keep the number of examples that Senator Xenophon is referring to in context. It is important that there be a penalty provision, but the overwhelming number of claims made is entirely appropriate. I will also say that I actually do not think—respectfully, Senator Xenophon—that the threat of a financial penalty is the largest or most important way of ensuring compliance. As I have mentioned previously and we can discuss with the next legislation, with the government's commitment and the Prime Minister's commitment to move to monthly disclosure in a more easily searchable format and in the short term to move to quarterly disclosure as opposed to six-monthly disclosure, the culture of looking for the public standard as well as the rules is actually going to be best met by that disclosure regime.

Quite frankly, I do not think that the issue of what you may call a fine or a penalty is as significant as how most people take their public reputations. I think what we will see and we have already started to see is a cultural change from what was the case decades ago, which reflects much greater transparency because we release more information than many comparable parliaments. This parliament releases a great deal more information about the expenses of its members than, as far as I am aware, any state parliament does. We release an extraordinary amount of information, and that is an observation that I think the parliament should be proud of. I think most people would value their reputation as more important than they would potentially a few hundred dollars.

So, respectfully, the government will be opposing this amendment, but I urge people to see this particular bill as part of a suite of bills that the Prime Minister has announced that are overhauling the entire system in the most substantial overhaul in decades.