On 2 August 2015 the Prime Minister announced the setting up of a committee to develop and propose models to deliver an independent parliamentary entitlements system, co-chaired by Mr David Tune (former Secretary of the Department of Finance) and Mr John Conde AO (President of the Remuneration Tribunal). The announcement comes in the wake of the resignation of the Speaker, the Hon Bronwyn Bishop, after weeks of controversy over travel entitlements. The objective of the committee is to establish a workable system for authorising potentially contentious expenditure before it is incurred. This is the latest in a series of inquiries and audits that have been conducted into MPs’ entitlements. Department of Finance reports on expenditure on parliamentarians’ entitlements have been available online since the July-December 2009 reporting period.
The last root-and-branch review was by the Committee for the Review of Parliamentary Entitlements, chaired by former senior public servant Barbara Belcher. The review report was released on 24 March 2011. The Belcher review drew a distinction between remuneration (salary) and ‘tools of trade’ (entitlements such as office facilities and transport), and recommended that each be dealt with separately. The then-Labor Government acted quickly on the key recommendation to restore to the Remuneration Tribunal the authority to determine MPs’ base salary and removing the Parliament’s ability to disallow such determinations.
The Government also referred the Belcher review recommendations to the Remuneration Tribunal, which published its Review of the remuneration of members of Parliament, Initial report (Initial report) in December 2011. To inform this review the Remuneration Tribunal engaged Egan Associates to undertake a work value assessment of the role of a member of parliament.
The Remuneration Tribunal agreed with many of the Belcher Review recommendations such as abolishing the Life Gold Pass prospectively; reducing severance travel schemes; introduction of additional salaries for Shadow Ministers, termination of the present Overseas Study Travel entitlement, severance of the link between pensions under the 1948 superannuation scheme and current parliamentarians’ salaries, the introduction of workers’ compensation arrangements for parliamentarians and amending the printing and communications entitlements.
Most of these recommendations have been implemented. The Tribunal recommended an increase to the base salary of MPs (to $185,000), but did not accept the Belcher Review recommendation to incorporate the electorate allowance into parliamentary base salary. Other key recommendations of the Belcher review that have not been implemented including bringing ‘tools of trade’ under a single piece of legislation to be administered by the Special Minister of State; incorporating MPs’ electorate allowance into base salary; preventing the use of the printing and communications allowance when elections are announced; and measures to improve transparency. Parliamentarians are still not covered by a workers’ compensation scheme. A June 2015 Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report on travel entitlements provided to parliamentarians notes that 17 of the 39 recommendations in the Belcher review report have been acted upon.
There have been a number of reports on parliamentary and related entitlements, although the Belcher review was the first comprehensive examination of MPs’ entitlements since 1971 when Justice Kerr reported on the Salaries and Allowances of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, which resulted in the establishment of the Remuneration Tribunal in 1973.
In its June 2015 report the ANAO provides a frank assessment of the current complex and unwieldy travel entitlements framework. In addition to examining issues relating to travel entitlements such as eligibility of use and accountability, the report provides an update on implementation of Belcher review recommendations and the Remuneration Tribunal Initial report as well as reforms proposed by the current Coalition Government. The ANAO report also discusses the current legislation before the Parliament which would enact some of the recommendations.
A (2009) ANAO report, Administration of parliamentarians’ entitlements by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, resulted in changes to the printing and communications entitlements, expansion of the reporting mechanisms and the establishment of the Belcher Committee.
In 2004 the ANAO conducted an audit on the Administration of staff employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (Cth). The ANAO made 13 recommendations in four major areas, relating to: personnel administration; authorisations and certifications; the control framework for payments; and payments and services provided to MOP(S) Act staff during election periods. The Department of Finance accepted these recommendations.
A 2002 ANAO audit of Parliamentarians’ Entitlements: 1999–2000 resulted in the government announcing changes to some print and travel arrangements. In 1991 the ANAO reported on services provided to MPs and their staff by the then Department of Administrative Services. This report led to improved management reporting arrangements and expenditure reports.