CANBERRA -- The Greens have another politicians' entitlement in their sights, pushing for a crackdown on a loosely-defined allowance giving MPs up to $46,000 for "electoral" expenses, and proposing jail terms for MPs who intentionally submit false expense claims.
The Greens will introduce amendments to the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority Bill 2017 to tighten rules around the Electoral Allowance that each Member and Senator is entitled to. The allowance ranges from $32,000 per year for senators and MPs with smaller electorates, up to $46,000 for MPs with large electorates, but the Greens say the rules around the use of that money are too lax.
"We already receive generous salaries in addition to travel allowances and other benefits. There's absolutely no reason why our $32,000 allowance earmarked for electorate work should be handed over with no oversight," said Greens democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon.
The allowance is meant to cover expenses incurred during day-to-day duties as a local representative, including gifts to community groups, presentations, donations and raffle tickets. The money is given to the MP or senator, and the leftover cash is treated as taxable income, the Greens say. The money has previously been reported as being treated by politicians as a "de facto part of [MPs'] salary".
The Greens say the party has a formal policy forbidding MPs and senators from using their allowance on personal expenses, and that every member complies with that rule. The Huffington Post Australia has contacted the offices of Special Minister of State Scott Ryan, and Labor's Shadow Special Minister of State Don Farrell, for information on whether the Coalition and Labor have their own internal rules around the electorate allowance.
"If the E.A. is supposed to be used for expenses within the electorate, then it shouldn't be paid into the member's private bank account and it should be subject to scrutiny. Unfortunately that is not the case at the moment and that's why we need this legislation," Rhiannon said.
The Greens' push would see that allowance paid into a dedicated bank account, separate from the accounts of the MP or senator, and for receipts to be submitted to a new compliance officer to ensure the money is actually being spent on electorate business.
Their idea would also halt electorate allowance payments unless receipts were submitted, and if money has been incorrectly claimed, the MP would need to repay four times the original amount. The Greens would also create a new criminal offence for MPs who intentionally submit false claims, to be punished by 12 months' jail or a fine of more than $10,000.
"If we leave grey areas like these intact, then we invite the kind of criticism people all across the world are levelling against us – that in the best case scenario we're out of touch and in the worst we're more interested in making money than in serving the public," Rhiannon said.
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