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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18673

Mr ORGAN (12:47 PM) —The Abolition of the Gold Travel Pass for Former Politicians (Reflecting Community Standards) Bill 2003 will provide for the comprehensive reduction of travel entitlements to former members of parliament. It has four policy objectives: first and foremost, to abolish the life travel gold pass; secondly, to ensure that all frequent flyer points that a politician or their spouse earns in the performance of parliamentary duty automatically become the property of the taxpayer upon the politician's retirement; thirdly, to replace the present regime with a fairer, more realistic system by providing retired politicians with a single return journey to clear out their parliamentary offices when they retire; and, finally, because retired prime ministers hold an appropriate place in Australia's civic affairs, the bill grants a $2,000 per annum allowance to be spent on travel for a non-commercial purpose.

Abolishing the life travel gold pass is long overdue. There has been talk of this in the past. However, pollies' privileges are something of a sacred cow which the government is loathe to touch. As it stands, there are 133 former federal MPs and senators with life gold passes. These retired politicians and their spouses are currently helping themselves to over $1 million a year of business and first-class travel and limousine services—this is in addition to their more than generous superannuation payments. The gold pass can be seen as a backdoor salary supplement, received when the individual has ceased to be a politician—when they have retired or been kicked out of office. This is something which the community at large objects to. For example, James Anderson of Giralang in the ACT, writing in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph concerning politicians so-called lurks and perks and the recent attacks on the social welfare system and carers allowance by the government and the Minister for Community Services in particular, stated:

If Senator Vanstone is so sincere about saving tax funded revenue, she should take stock of some of her own comments, such as: `There is no such thing as a free lunch.'

When she finishes hounding the sick, the handicapped and the unemployed, maybe she could take a long look at the political perks and privileges she and her colleagues enjoy.

... she could ask why, when politicians are voted out of office, they retain the perks and privileges of serving members. Even if they have been found guilty of abusing these privileges, they still retain their tax funded pensions and entitlements.

Perceptions are everything. Reputation is everything. The standing of politicians in this country is not as it should be. The print and electronic media constantly feature stories of politicians rorting the system. As such, politicians are viewed alongside car dealers and lawyers as the least trustworthy and most self-interested of professions. The gold pass does not help this perception. Whilst the majority of Australian parliamentarians are honest and hardworking, abuses by the few, and inappropriate perks such as the gold pass, lead to the current dim view of politicians and the political process in general held by many in the community. The gold pass must be abolished.

When the issue of the gold pass was debated by the parliament last year there were strong sentiments on all sides with regard to its appropriateness or otherwise. Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown made it clear that the Greens believe the gold pass entitlements should be abolished. The Democrats and Independents such as the member for Calare likewise supported the abolition of the gold pass. The latter called it an unnecessary privilege and an indulgence. Even among some members of the opposition there was support for its abolition, with the member for Batman going so far as to say:

Those members whose calculated actions lead to taxpayer funded by-elections should not be eligible for privileges such as these.

Perhaps the sudden resignation of the former member for Cunningham helped to crystallise the member for Batman's view on this matter. Whatever the case, this bill if passed will remove an inequity and make available public funds which can be better spent in areas of need, such as health, education and welfare. One million dollars could provide almost 500 individuals and families with a fortnightly carers allowance.

The government constantly talks about public accountability. It is therefore hypocritical in the extreme to deal so harshly with welfare recipients while those on the gold pass are not subject to any real form of accountability by the parliament or the people. Perhaps the retired politician who spent over $19,000 in six months last year can explain why they deserve a gold card to those students in my electorate struggling to survive on an Austudy payment of $155 per week.

The message here is clear: the community is not supportive of retired politicians continuing to receive massive benefits—paid for by the taxpayer—well after they retire from parliament. Make no mistake, the life travel gold pass is a gravy train that must be derailed so that its value can be better spent in areas of need. In closing, I remind you that this bill could be passed today. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition could make it so. I therefore call on all parties to have the guts to support the abolition of the gold pass. I commend this bill to the House and provide a copy of the bill's explanatory memorandum.

Bill read a first time.

The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.