My Daily Advertiser column for today, 17 January 2017

by ray goodlass

Ley’s expenses scandal is more evidence that we need a national ICAC

As I pondered my selection of topic for this week’s column I was spoilt for choice, for though we weren’t even hallway through the first month of the year there were several political train wrecks competing for my attention.

There was federal government’s Human Services Minister Alan Tudge stoutly defending Centrelink’s disastrous Debt Recovery program as he firmly denied the agency had made fundamental errors. Perhaps he needs to be reminded of the old adage of “If you are in a hole stop digging”.

Then there was President-Elect Trump’s appalling first press conference since his election, at which he crudely berated the media for doing its job and denied that the Russians had secret ‘dirt files’ on him. Of course, when we find out the sordid details of the contents of those files, as we surely will, it will be everyone else’s fault bar his.

But the political train wreck I’ve chosen to focus on today is (former) Health Minister Sussan Ley’s travel rorts, because it has very significant ramifications. It is not the stories of expensive charter flights on busy capital city routes when she could have simply booked a seat on an existing flight, nor the purchase of an $800,000 property on a tax-payer funded trip to the Gold Coast, nor other tax-payer funded trips to other expensive flesh pots that rankle, nor her eventual resignation, for the demise of Ms Ley’s ministerial career will probably only be for the short term anyway, given the way disgraced minister Arthur Sinodinos has bounced back to favour.

The real significance of the story is that it finally provoked PM Turnbull into a major overhaul of the use of MP allowances, for when after announcing Ms Ley’s resignation he “ also announced a new compliance body to oversee parliamentary expenses, based on a similar system in the United Kingdom” (ABC TV news).

It will monitor and adjudicate all claims by MPs, senators and ministers, ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are spent appropriately and in compliance with the rules. The body will be governed by an independent board including an experienced auditor, someone with experience in remuneration matters, a former judicial officer and a former MP.

The creation of the body will be overseen by Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan, and Mr Turnbull has directed his department to provide urgent attention.

“We’re not slavishly bound to the United Kingdom model, I might add, but that is the very clear direction that we are focused on,” Mr Turnbull said.

Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong said Labor had given in-principle support for the changes, but criticised the Government for the delayed response to the scandal involving Ms Ley.

However, the delayed response isn’t the only problem, for as Greens democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon quite rightly said “So Turnbull thinks an independent watchdog is useful for entitlement rorts, but not for political corruption? Gutless. Resignations and ‘sunlight’ aren’t enough, we need a watchdog with teeth”.

In other words, what we really need is a National Anti-Corruption Commission, that is, a National ICAC, something I have previously called for in this column. As the exposure of ministerial rorts grows it’s a call that needs to be made until it is implemented.

Mr Turnbull’s response is essentially window dressing. We get an independent watchdog for entitlements, but not for corruption? Politicians once again get off lightly compared to, for example, Centrelink recipients