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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12291

Ms HENDERSON (Corangamite) (17:02): I rise to speak in support of the Parliamentary Entitlements Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. In making what will be a relatively brief contribution today I would like to start by reflecting on one very important point: members of parliament are elected to serve the community. And, in the case of members of the House of Representatives, they are elected to serve their electorates. Members of parliament are duty-bound to serve with integrity, honesty and transparency. The standards which apply to members of parliament are high, and so they should be. Australians deserve no less.

I digress for one moment, noting that the former member for Corangamite was in the House today. It reminded me of the failure of the former member for Corangamite to serve with integrity when he ran a very dishonest campaign in relation to a particular—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): I will ask the member for Corangamite to withdraw that. Those imputations are not acceptable. The standing orders clearly say that you cannot impugn a member or claim that his motives are improper, and that is what you have just done.

Ms HENDERSON: I am not impugning a member. I am reflecting on—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You just said that he ran a dishonest campaign and the statement you made before that was impugning him.

Ms HENDERSON: He is not a member, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker. He is a former—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It does not matter!

Ms HENDERSON: He is a former member and—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I have asked you to withdraw it!

Ms HENDERSON: Unfortunately, the record does stand—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I have asked you to withdraw it!

Ms HENDERSON: Well, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I will reluctantly withdraw it—

Mr Dreyfus: No! Unreservedly!

Mr Fletcher: Let's have some more bullying from that side!

Ms HENDERSON: because there is no question in relation to the conduct of the former member for Corangamite. It is unfortunate that you have made that ruling, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, but in light of the fact that you have I will withdraw it.

In any event I think that the people of Corangamite understand how important it is to serve with integrity. The Australian community needs to have every confidence that their elected representatives are serving in a way which also delivers value for money and openness. I think that most people in the community understand that most members of parliament work hard. They understand that politics is pretty much a 24/7 business and that the commitment to public service requires a commitment to long hours and the capacity to deal with many issues concurrently.

In the electorate of Corangamite, which I am honoured to represent—a large regional electorate of more than 7½ thousand square kilometres and consisting of some 166 different communities—there is much work to be done to build a strong and prosperous economy and a safer and more secure Australia. Of course I work to be a strong local voice for the people of Corangamite.

Australians understand that members of parliament, when doing their job, have legitimate business expenses. But Australians have a right to expect that the parliamentary entitlements system is robust and transparent, and reflects community standards. This bill will make changes to the Parliamentary Entitlements Framework as announced by the government on 9 November 2013. It will also reduce parliamentarians' retirement travel entitlements as announced by the government in the 2014-15 budget.

The bill will amend the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 in order to impose a 25 per cent penalty loading on travel claims that requires subsequent adjustment more than 28 days after being first submitted, including a legal right of recovery of the 25 per cent penalty loading. It will also limit the travel entitlement provided to the dependent children of senior officeholders to those who are less than 18 years of age.

This bill also amends the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) Act 2002 in order to: reduce the travel entitlements for holders of the parliamentary retirement travel entitlement for both current and former senators and members; remove spouse travel, except for retired former prime ministers; and require all parliamentary retirement travel to be for the public benefit. As the member for Hume has said in his contribution today, that is a very important component of the changes in the bill. The bill also establishes a statutory basis for recovering overpayments to address the risk that certain payments made in the administration of entitlements may constitute a breach of section 83 of the Constitution.

Australians understand that parliamentarians have an important job to do and that that costs money. I certainly concur with the member for Hume in emphasising that parliamentarians on all sides of politics make a very important contribution. But let us be blunt, Australians do not like any suggestion that politicians have their snout in the trough. Our government's decision to apply a 25 per cent penalty loading on travel claims that require substantial adjustment sends a very clear message that any mistakes, oversights or, unfortunately, abuses, as has been alleged in the past, by members of parliament with respect to travel claims will not be tolerated. There will be a penalty and it is one that our government takes seriously.

Our government's decision to remove, cease, limit and reduce travel entitlements once an MP retires also demonstrates a commitment to adapt to changing community standards. As the member for Brand said today in his contribution, abolishing the life gold pass over time is a good thing to do. Special entitlements, of course, have been preserved for former prime ministers, and that is appropriate. The member for Brand has been critical of the cut in the entitlements of former prime ministers, but I wish to remind the House that former prime ministers will continue to be entitled to 30 trips per year for life and 20 trips per year for the former Prime Minister's spouse or de facto partner.

The Special Minister for State has explained each of these measures in detail in the second reading speech to the bill. I do not propose to go into much more detail than has already been done in this debate. I simply say, in my view, the people of Corangamite and Australians more broadly will appreciate the efforts of this government to tighten up the access to various entitlements, to add an extra layer of accountability and transparency, and to send a very strong message that being an elected representative comes with appropriate limitations on the cost to the taxpayer.

In getting Australia back on track and in getting our budget back on track, each of us has to make a contribution. That includes, of course, members and senators of the Australian parliament. I commend this bill to the House.