Poll 2016: Canberra politicians’ perks belong in ‘days gone by’

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A daily allowance of $86 paid to Canberra politicians for showing up to work at Parliament House is a perk that is out of step with modern workplace expectations, says an expert on politicians’ entitlements Anne Cahill-Lambert, who chairs the ACT Remuneration Tribunal, says the entitlement belongs in “days gone by” and she would be looking at the perk if she was involved in the Commonwealth Remuneration Tribunal, the body that sets the level of pay and entitlements for MPs and senators.

Fairfax Media reported on Tuesday that Canberra politicians have been slugging taxpayers thousands of dollars simply for driving across town to their Parliament House offices.

MPs and senators who live within 30 kilometres of Parliament House can claim $86 a day, before tax, for turning up to work at Capital Hill when the Parliament is sitting or to attend committee meetings.

Three of the five local federal parliamentarians claim the allowance, with Labor MP Gai Brodtmann and ALP Senator Katy Gallagher declining to accept the payment.

Liberal MP for Eden-Monaro Peter Hendy, Labor’s Fenner MP Andrew Leigh and Liberal ACT Senator Zed Seselja have all claimed several thousand dollars in “daily expense allowance” in recent years.

But Ms Cahill-Lambert, who along with her colleagues sets the pay and entitlements of members of the territory’s local Assembly, said the $86-a-day allowance belonged in the past.

“As chair of the ACT Tribunal I was surprised about that and if I was the chair of the Commonwealth Tribunal it is something that I would be looking at,” she told The Canberra Times.

“I think it was designed for another time and not the current time, current expectations, current transparencies.”

The ACT Remuneration Tribunal conducted a sweep-out of local politicians’ perks three years ago, consigning many of them to history.

“We abolished quite a few allowances that were designed for another day and another time as well,” Ms Cahill-Lambert said.

“There was spousal travel, for example, that we abolished.

“That sort of allowance had been transferred from the Commonwealth [at self-government] and the idea was that you were away at the Parliament during the week and you missed your spouse so then they could accompany you on overseas trips.

“Except that’s not the case here in the ACT where the furthest you’d go is 30 kilometres.”

Ms Cahill-Lambert said an emphasis was placed on making politicians responsible for some spending where the taxpayer had previously picked up the tab.

“Personal development allowances, things like that, we rolled into their salaries so then they would pay for those things,” she said.

“Motor vehicle allowances, we rolled those into their salaries too, to make the politicians responsible for those themselves and then it’s between them and the taxman.

“We recognised that a lot of the original allowances belonged in days gone by and not in current practices.”

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