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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1167


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (13:21): Can I indicate that I support the second reading of the Parliamentary Entitlements Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. I hope it is not the kiss of death to say nice things about Minister Ryan, but Senator Ryan has dealt with these matters in a very assiduous and, I think, a very decent manner and has brought these matters to fruition. It is better late than never, but I think that the minister's level of consultation, from my point of view and from my colleagues' point of view, has been very good. I think we should acknowledge the work and energy that has gone into this to bring us to this stage. Can I say that, in terms of this legislation, I did try and bring this—the so-called gold-pass bill—on for a vote some time a number of months ago, but the government said it was not ready to do so. It is a pity we could not have dealt with it earlier.

In relation to this bill, the issue of transparency is absolutely critical. As a member of the South Australian parliament many years ago, I moved to have politicians' overseas travel reports put online. It took two or three years to get my colleagues in the major parties onside, but now it is a matter of course. People should know for significant amounts of expenditure what the MP or legislative councillor did. In turn, that gives a level of scrutiny and rigor. That is something that we will be discussing when we turn to the other bill about the authority that is being set up.

In terms of the specific amendments, I believe it is important that there be adequate penalties if there are breaches in the use of entitlements. It is in the context of this bill that I will be moving an amendment to ensure that, if a recipient has made a wrongful claim, there will be a penalty of 200 per cent of the amount claimed. That would ratchet up for repeat offenders up to 400 per cent. It is practical in this context. There will be a new mechanism in place where you can get a preliminary determination as to whether you can make a particular claim or not, so there should be no excuse for claims being made that ought not to be made. Also, having claims publicly available on a monthly basis would give a level of scrutiny that would keep all of us on our toes. I think that is a good and positive thing. So I will be moving that amendment.

I also note the amendment of Senator Bernardi on the issue of former prime ministers' entitlements. I have a different position to Senator Di Natale. I think if there is going to be any exception it should be for former prime ministers if they served for more than a year. I think four years is too long a period of time. We seem to be living now at a time when we not only have 24-hour news cycles but seem to have prime ministers who do not last for much more than 24 months. I think it is important that we acknowledge, if you have served this nation as its leader, that important role. If you have been head of this nation from whichever party you represented, I do not think it is inappropriate that you are extended a gold pass to attend community events and functions. I think some would say, 'That can be paid for by whoever is inviting them.' But, if it is a remote community or a community group that has very stretched resources, I do not think it is reasonable for them to pay for the cost of flying a former PM over and putting them up to participate in a community event. It can be important having a former PM attending and being part of a community event, whether it be a conference, school opening or whatever. If it is a legitimate event then I think we should honour our former prime ministers. So I have a different view in relation to that to what others do.

I welcome this legislation. I welcome the committee stage of this bill. I note Senator Macdonald's views on retrospectivity. I know it is a heavy burden and a heavy onus on the parliament, but I believe that we ought to deal with these matters. The High Court dealt with the issue of the gold pass. I think it has been settled by virtue of the High Court's approach on this. I am sure we will hear more about the legal principles involved. I indicate that I support this legislation, but I believe we should go further. If we want to give this legislation teeth, there need to be some appropriate penalties in place which will keep all MPs and senators on their toes and strengthen public confidence in the system that we have.