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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1284

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (19:55): My remarks will be relatively brief. I, on behalf of my colleagues, support the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority Bill 2017. It has been a long time coming and it is amazing how things change. When I put up a bill in similar terms back in September 2015, the Parliamentary Expenses Amendment (Transparency and Accountability) Bill 2015, the majority report of the committee that examined the bill basically said the bill was unnecessary. The majority report stated:

… the bill was introduced to address perceived problems with the entitlements system arising from claims made by the former Speaker of the House of Representatives. In the committee's view, ad hoc legislative reform is not the way to address concerns in relation to the parliamentary entitlements system. The appropriate forum for the discussion of the issues raised in the bill is the current independent review of the parliamentary entitlements system.

Well, that was not about an ad hoc issue. It was about that being the tip of the iceberg in terms of what happened with the former Speaker. I think Terry Sweetman said it very well in a piece in The Courier Mail on 23 October 2015:

It is a pattern of unacceptable behaviour for which no responsibility is taken until somebody is caught out through the curiosity or the diligence of others.

That is why this bill is important, because it is a significant improvement on what we have had in the past. I commend the Special Minister of State, Senator Ryan, for the work he has done on this and for his consultation across the board, as I understand it, in discussing this with his colleagues and getting it to this stage so quickly. But it is a pity—it is interesting to observe that under two years ago, when I put up a similar bill for more immediate reporting, for more transparency, nothing was done. I believe that, through faster and more detailed reporting of travel claims and much tougher penalties, it will change the political culture from one of entitlement to a practice of responsibility and prudence. But I do acknowledge that the work done by the President of the Remuneration Tribunal, John Conde AO; the former Secretary of the Department of Finance, David Tune AO; and others—former members of parliament—was a useful exercise. I did spend a fair bit of time with that panel, that committee, to give them my views, as they did with others. It seems that we now have something that mirrors, in many respects, the bill that I put up back in September 2015. In that regard, I welcome it.

I foreshadow that I will be moving an amendment—which was the initiative, the idea, of the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie MP—to have a community representatives as part of the authority. That is something I commend Ms Sharkie for bringing forward. We have had a respectful discussion with the minister in relation to that, and I understand his reasons for not wanting to support it at this stage, but I think it is important to raise the issue of how you measure appropriate community standards. More regular reporting, clearer rules and preliminary determinations being made—something that is an initiative of this bill, which is very welcome—I think will all build and strengthen confidence in the system.

Finally, I make this observation: more regular reporting and more transparent reporting keeps all of us on our toes. I for one have a view that MPs who are travelling for under two hours in a plane should not be flying business class. They should save taxpayers' money and fly economy class. I understand that Senator Macdonald, Senator Scullion, Senator McCarthy and others, and all the Western Australian senators think it is not unreasonable that they fly business class for those long legs. I prefer flying economy class, but that is my choice. I think that sort of transparency is a good thing as well.

I look forward to the committee stage of this bill. I indicate that we will be supporting a number of the Greens second reading amendments because we think they have merit in order to advance greater levels of transparency and accountability. It seems that finally we have some substantive reforms. That is a good thing. It is something I have long campaigned for, and I am so glad that we have got to this stage tonight.