Ministers and travel expenses

Posted by Des Menz in My State - South Australia on 15 May 2015


If the Bronwyn Bishop matter wasn’t enough, along comes exposure of similar largesse and unexplained travel expenses from Ministers in the Weatherill government of South Australia.

Regardless of which side of politics it is, Ministers and governments must be accountable for their behaviour. Some of this behaviour is wrong, some is plain stupid. Hypocrisy has no bounds.


Leon Bignell is a Minister with five portfolios (Agriculture-Food-Fisheries; Forests; Tourism; Recreation and Sport; Racing) in the South Australian government. Recently, he was trying to explain some of the expenditures he had incurred during 2014-15.

You could say he was unconvincing. Some could say he flunked the “sniff test”. 

Tom Koutsantonis has five portfolios - he is Treasurer; Minister for Finance; Minister for State Development; Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy; and Minister for Small Business.

He attended a conference of dubious value in Canada. Cost $52,000.

Jack Snelling has four portfolios - Minister for Health; Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse; Minister for the Arts; and Minister for Health Industries.

He had no excuses for not revealing his travel expenses for two excursions that topped $100,000.

It is likely that nearly $1 million was spent by SA government Ministers on overseas trips in 2014-15. This is more than four times what was spent just two years ago, 2012-13.

Why?

With this simple question, I sought answers from Premier Weatherill about a range of matters.

Here’s the letter sent to him on 4 August, 2015.


4 August 2015

Premier Jay Weatherill
GPO Box 464
Adelaide  SA  5001

Dear Premier

The recent exposure of highly suspect travel claims by a number in your government is another signal to the people of South Australia that politicians have become immune to community expectations. It is a disease at the federal and state government levels.

The reported figure of more than $150,000 in 2014-15 for Minister Bignell’s travel expenses, Treasurer Koutsantonis’ $52,000 (and who knows what more?) for a recent single trip to Canada, and Minister Snelling’s more than $100,000 “unaccounted” expenditure to a festival and to the US respectively (possibly the most contemptible of all), are all indications of an abuse of position at a time when the state economy is floundering.

What is most distasteful is the flippant nature that these expenses are accorded by their recipients. These expenses, along with the other hundreds of thousands of dollars or so of travel expenses, are sufficient to provide employment for many people at a time when the state has the highest unemployment in the land. You might think that this expenditure is very insignificant in terms of total government outlays, but it is a matter of principle and ethical behaviour.

We all accept that some international travel is necessary by Ministers, but surely they are the very people who the electorate expects a reasonable sense of conduct from. It seems that when people are elected as politicians, they assume an “entitlement” to an extraordinary expenses account funded by the taxpayer, particularly when a Ministerial portfolio is awarded to them. This sense of “entitlement” is as repugnant as is the absence of conscience in attempting to explain away what appears to be personal indulgence and largesse.

I now refer you to just two years ago 2012-13, where the TOTAL travel cost by ALL members in the House of Assembly was $221,829. 

(ref. http://www.parliament.sa.gov.au/HOUSEOFASSEMBLY/OTHER/PUBLICATIONS/Pages/MemberAnnualTravelReports.aspx


In 2014-15, it is a very different story. The Ministers’ travel expense account has developed a serious bout of bloat.

I now seek answers to the following important questions.

  • In a time of economic downturn, how can excessive travel expenses be justified, particularly when compared with the amount from just two years ago?
  • Why is there no report on House of Assembly Members travel after 2012-13?
  • Why have Ministers’ international travel expenses likely to have quadrupled since the last report in 2012-13?
  • Why has Department of Planning Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) ceased listing at its website Ministers Koutsantonis and Bignell’s credit card expenses after March 2014 and January 2014 respectively? http://www.dpti.sa.gov.au/open_government/proactive_disclosure/ministerial#MinRec&Sport
  • Why are Legislative Council member travel costs not available as per the House of Assembly?
  • What is being done to limit all government member expenses in these times of economic uncertainty and restraint?
  • Do you think that travel expenses should be capped in line with community expectations and the state’s ability to pay? If not, why not? If so, then what will you do about it? And what should be an appropriate figure?
    (I remind you to look back at the 2012-13 travel figures)

If you think that the inordinate travel expenditures are part of the office of politicians and Ministers, and are within the “rules” then it’s about time those rules were changed to reflect normal societal standards.  

It is time that politicians reined in their largesse and stopped abusing the position bestowed on them by the voting people. That position should not be treated as one of power and “entitlement”.

Recently I wrote to former federal Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and the Prime Minister and said; ”It is time that every politician in Australia stopped thinking that the taxpayer is there to subsidise their unprincipled, unethical, and at times illegal behaviour. It is intolerable that you and other politicians feed off the taxpayer in so many ways and yet at the same time deny those in great need of assistance.”

Those words apply equally to members of your government. It does not take much “visible excess” to commence a downfall. 

Finally, why have I written this letter? The answer is at the end of the letter I wrote to Bill Shorten about the Bronwyn Bishop affair. Her largesse and ultimate incompetence finally caught up with her.

I look forward to your response to my questions.

Sincerely

Des Menz

PO Box 117
Clare   SA  5453


The Premier’s reply will be posted here as soon as it is received.

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A reply from the “Correspondence Unit”.

Scan


Make of it as you will, so let’s wait and see what happens.


© Des Menz 2014-18
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