- See “Who’s Sussan?” below
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to tighten up MPs’ expense claims after the Sussan Ley-sparked “entitlements” scandal would be a fine model for our local council to follow.
It would mean posting councillors’ expenses monthly on the shire website, administered and overseen by an independent body. The Turnbull proposal is to be based on the British system used to monitor spending by House of Commons and House of Lords members. (Picture: Ms Ley – grounded.)
People might recall the massive uproar in the United Kingdom in 2009 when it was revealed MPs were claiming for items including cleaning an MP’s ancestral moat.
Several House of Lords and Commons MPs and ex-MPs were jailed for false accounting. Many more apologised, were sacked, resigned or did not recontest their seats.
The recent local councillor expenditure controversy was far humbler. It involved Cr Antonella Celi’s alleged overspending by more than $9000 on her four-year $19,500 conferences and seminars allowance. Her factional colleagues successfully moved to declare she had not overspent at all. They were supported by shire CEO Carl Cowie and much-discussed legal advice.
All councils are sensitive to councillors’ spending. Yarra Ranges Shire Council, a city-edge district similar to the Mornington Peninsula, keeps a close eye on ratepayers’ money.
Yarra Ranges defines councillor duties for which expenses can be claimed as “duties performed by a councillor that are necessary or appropriate for the purposes of achieving the objectives of a Council”.
MPSC’s Councillor Expenditure Policy states that an out-of-pocket claim can be made for expenses arising from attending any meeting “to discuss with officers or any person, any matter relating to the Shire”.
This policy was adopted on 5 September last year following the Celi payment matter which, when first revealed, prompted a vote requiring her to repay the money. A later vote reversed this. The policy is due to be revised soon.
Councillors can claim for attendance at conferences and seminars; for parking, taxis and ferries; for entertaining; events and meetings; printing and stationery; travel; childcare; development and training; sundry expenses, tools and equipment (minor); and uniforms.
In the shire’s 2014-15 and 2015-16 annual reports councillor expenses were tabulated as Travel; Vehicle Claims; Child Care; Information and Communication; Conferences and Training; Other – Meals, Memberships, Uniforms, Stationery. (See table.)
Under the Turnbull plan these expenses would be made public monthly, but with a delay of perhaps two months, as occurs in the UK.
As an example of the UK system, Bandicoot selected the expenses of Mr Iain Duncan Smith (pictured), formerly MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, who resigned from Cabinet last March, citing pressure to cut disability benefits. Part of his expenses are shown online:
Allowances for Iain Duncan Smith
|Claim Ref. No.||363557|
|MP||Iain Duncan Smith|
|Allowance Type||Communications Expenditure|
|Expenditure Type||General Running Costs|
|Claim Process Date||22/05/08|
It could logically be expected that, in the interests of full transparency, the federal government and the shire would restrict as far as possible the provision of councillor spending details to voters/ratepayers.
The shire records on councillor expenditure as now kept are, in Bandicoot’s view, ambiguous, uninformative and often muddled, with numerous items listed in incorrect categories – “Sundries” appears a favourite hold-all for items that should be under specific heads. Set the task of sorting out the present records would have meticulous accountants or bookkeepers tearing their hair out by the handful.
The UK Parliament has a “Green Book”, which explains the expenses system and the principles MPs are required to follow. The principles include:
- Claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed.
- Claims must only be made for expenditure that it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties.
- Members must ensure that claims do not give rise to, or give the appearance of giving rise to, an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else.
- Members are committed to openness about what expenditure has been incurred and for what purposes.
- Individual Members take personal responsibility for all expenses incurred, for making claims and for keeping records, even if the administration of claims is delegated by them to others.
Bandicoot is confident the reformed federal/state/local government expenditure rules will follow this UK model, and that MPs and councillors will follow the principles.
Under ‘General Principles Of Conduct’, the Green Book lists Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership as the standards MPs are expected to meet.
The Green Book can be found at: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmcode/1076/1076.pdf
Now for something completely different – some facts you did not know about Sussan Ley.
She was born Susan Penelope Braybrooks in Nigeria to English parents in December 1961. The family migrated to Australia when she was 13.
Educated at La Trobe University, Uni of NSW and Charles Sturt Uni.
She changed her name from Susan to Sussan because of a belief in numerology. Was married and had three children with John Ley. Divorced in 2004. Her “domestic partner” is Graham Johnson.
She is MP for Farrer, a safe Liberal seat that extends from Albury to the SA border and takes in Holbrook, Corowa, Leeton, Griffith, Deniliquin, Hayand Balranald as well as Albury. Area: Nearly 250,000 square kilometres, Farrer is named after William Farrer, wheat breeder and “experimentalist”.