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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1297

Senator RYAN (VictoriaSpecial Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (20:40): The government does not support amending legislation specifying that the authority may refer matters to the Australian Federal Police, should they believe a claim to be fraudulent. Members and senators are not above the law, and I would expect that in the very rare circumstance that someone commits a crime they should be reported to police. No-one in this place would disagree with that approach.

The independent authority has been established to ensure that authoritative advice is given to members and senators about their claims, to audit all work expenses, and to increase transparency. It is this transparency that will ensure that more and more eyes are actually on how we behave.

I am not entirely sure how this proposal adds to transparency. This is the single most significant change to parliamentary expenses in decades—it has been brought into this parliament, and, with the assistance of senators and members, will hopefully pass the parliament 34 days later—and I do not think we, as senators and members, should be referring to it as a toothless tiger. I actually do believe it is important to rebuild and maintain public faith in expenses. There will always be a level of challenging of those and I have no problem with that, because it involves scarce public funds. But, in my final contribution, if I could urge senators to actually reflect on the fact that if we start using terms like 'toothless tiger' before this body is set up—I do not think we want to hobble it.

One can disagree—there may be little changes here and there and I think I have outlined a reasonable position as to why not. I make no accusation about the motive of others. As I said about the previous amendment from Senator Xenophon, I know that it was motivated by a genuine world view. I will simply ask that people give this authority time to work. It will come before Senate estimates. There is no more gruelling process of scrutiny in this country than the three-times-a-year hearings around Senate estimates. To be fair, substantial scrutiny will be put on this authority and the authority, I think, is aware of that. On top of that you will have monthly reporting.

So, let's give the body a chance before we actually start saying things like 'toothless tiger'. I do not think that is justified with this bill. I do not think it is justified by the commitment demonstrated by the Prime Minister and this government.

The next amendment I know the Greens are moving reflects their proposed change, which is in their second reading amendment to the electorate allowance. I do not propose to comment again. My comments earlier on stand with respect to that amendment.