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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29429

Mr BEAZLEY (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, are you aware that yesterday the Auditor-General released a report critical of accountability procedures for MPs' entitlements? Why has your government rejected this important report? Why won't you join with me in supporting the Auditor-General's call for greater transparency and better control of entitlements? In particular, why won't you back Labor's policy, which was released 10 months ago, to establish an independent auditor of parliamentary entitlements and the twice-yearly tabling of details of all parliamentary entitlements?

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The actions of the member for Hume are effectively denying the Prime Minister the right to be heard.

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. I am aware of the audit report tabled yesterday in the parliament, and I would like to say a couple of things about it. First, I would like to say—and this is said in fairness to members on both sides of the House—that of the 90,000 transactions to which the ANAO had access, only 54 were deemed to have been in error; and, of these, 42 had been already identified by the Department of Finance and Administration. There is no evidence in this report of systemic abuse and I have not been able to find any solid evidence in this report of deliberate acts of dishonesty on the part of members. I think it is important, unpopular though it may be, to say that it is the case that, in order to carry out their duties properly, members on both sides of the House are entitled to a number of things which may seem to the general public on occasion to be excessive. In a big country such as Australia, you do have to travel a lot. You cannot do your job as a minister, you cannot do your job as a shadow minister and you cannot do your job as a parliamentary committee member without travelling a great deal. We are constantly being asked by the public and by the media to provide more information. We are constantly being asked, and properly so, to more effectively service our electorates. That is the backdrop against which I would make a further couple of comments.

Having said that, let me say that the government will very carefully examine what is in the report. For my part, I have to say that I think there is a case for capping a number of the allowances and entitlements, both in relation to current members and also former members. I have already commissioned some work to be done in relation to that and I will be having something further to say about it.

In answer to the Leader of the Opposition, I would go further than what he said; I would actually do something now. I would actually place some caps on some of these allowances and entitlements. Of course, I note again with interest that this is something else that was going to be done in the 14th year. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that I think there is a case and I am already having work done on that. My recollection and understanding may be in error in relation to this, but it is my understanding that, whereas half-yearly reports are tabled in the parliament in relation to serving members, that may not be the case in relation to former members. I have to say that the distinction escapes me and the justification for that distinction escapes me, and unless there is a solid reason for that distinction to be maintained, I think it should be abandoned.