Review of Parliamentary Entitlements Committee Report April 2010
Chapter 7 - Travel
The parliamentary entitlements surrounding travel are arguably the most complex, confusing and difficult to understand both for senators and members and those who administer the entitlements. The prescriptive nature of these provisions has required parliamentarians and Finance to devote significant time to interpreting and applying the rules. This has served to ensure that the benefits set out are not exceeded or deviated from, but often at the expense of concentrating on the needs of senators and members to undertake their roles effectively.
Finance’s submission68 to the committee described one such instance:
...Determination 2006/18 specifies that “a Senator or Member may use car transport in Canberra for the purposes of personal emergencies such as medical treatment, funerals and other compassionate circumstances and reasonable personal services such as religious services and banking when these are not available at Parliament House” (clause 3.3). Ill defined regulations such as this also create difficulties for Senators and Members who have to navigate complex rules which often do not appear to be sensible.
In a nation as geographically large as Australia the capacity of senators and members to undertake widespread domestic travel ensures they are able to serve the interests of their constituents and the nation. The electorate for senators covers the whole of their respective state or territory, while members have electorates of widely varying geographical size within a state or territory. Devising a range of travelling allowances and other travel provisions to cover these diverse requirements has contributed to the complexity of entitlements.
The committee considered various aspects of travel entitlements to assess their continuing relevance and identify where flexibility and simplicity could be achieved. Travel by scheduled services is limited by purpose of travel rather than by a budget. The committee considered that this arrangement continued to be appropriate.
Currently the Remuneration Tribunal determines a single rate of Canberra Allowance that is payable for each overnight stay in Canberra, subject to the same eligibility conditions that apply to travelling allowance elsewhere in mainland Australia. Senators and members must provide documentary evidence of their arrival and departure times in Canberra.
The committee reviewed the daily Canberra travelling allowance paid to senators and members from outside of the ACT and the expense allowance paid on parliamentary sitting days to senators and members from the ACT. The joint whips’ submission to the committee proposed consideration of an annual allowance, noting that this would reduce the considerable administrative workload associated with making and substantiating claims.
The Remuneration Tribunal submitted that an annual allowance similar to the accommodation allowances determined for public office holders could be instituted. The Tribunal noted that, if it were a fact that members made more settled arrangements in Canberra, then their costs might well be much the same regardless of the exact number of nights they spent in Canberra in a year.
The committee decided not to recommend an annualised payment as part of this review. However, the government and the Remuneration Tribunal might wish to consider this further. The committee noted that any new payment arrangement would need to recognise that ministers and other senior parliamentary office holders can spend considerable additional periods in Canberra, although, like their roles and responsibilities, this was variable. The committee also noted that the current arrangement was based on a direct connection between the nights each parliamentarian was required to spend away from home on business and the payment he or she received.
Should the government accept the committee’s recommendation to divide the current framework into remuneration and tools of trade allocations, it is expected that responsibility for setting the rate of the Canberra Allowance would remain with the Remuneration Tribunal, while responsibility for setting the conditions of the allowance would be transferred to the Special Minister of State (the minister).
Currently the Remuneration Tribunal determines a number of travel benefits that allow the following family members to travel within Australia, at Commonwealth expense, to accompany or join a senator or member:
- spouse or nominee
- dependent children
- designated person.
A family reunion travel budget is allocated to each senator and member to fund intra-state travel and travel between Canberra and certain designated places by these family members. The value of the family reunion travel budget is calculated on the basis of nine business class return trips to Canberra for a spouse or nominee and three business class return trips for each dependent child. The budget may be used for travel by any of the family members listed above, at the class of travel selected by the senator or member.
In addition, each senator and member may be accompanied or joined by a family member on a total of three business class return inter-state trips each year. These trips may be converted to Canberra or intra-state trips.
The committee noted that under the current definition of ‘join’ set out in Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2006/18, a family member or designated person69 has only to spend three hours at the same location as the senator or member to satisfy the requirement that travel be to accompany or join the senator or member. To minimise the risk that accompanied travel benefits might be misused, the committee recommends the changes outlined below to the existing provision of family reunion travel.
A family member who is travelling to accompany or join the senator or member must:
- arrive at a destination no more than 24 hours before the senator or member’s arrival, and
- depart from a destination no more than 24 hours after the senator or member’s departure.
This recommendation seeks to ensure that trips are used only for purposes consistent with the original intent of the family reunion travel provisions; that is, to allow senators and members to reunite with their family members and spend time together.
The committee considered a reduction in the number of return visits permitted to Canberra by spouses/partners from the current nine. It noted that a minority of senators and members made full use of the family travel provisions and also that a benefit of this nature was not provided in the wider community when work patterns caused family dislocation.
However, the committee also recognised that parliamentary and related responsibilities meant that senators and members, particularly those from remote electorates and non-eastern states, on occasions found it difficult to return home between parliamentary sitting weeks. The committee decided against recommending a reduction in the number of visits, but considered that the appropriate level of reunion travel should be considered alongside the proposed study of family support travel (see following section).
The provision that enables a spouse or nominee to travel to Canberra to attend official government, parliamentary or vice regal functions should remain unchanged.
The committee reached the view that the current definition of ‘designated person’ was unacceptably broad in permitting any member of a senator’s or member’s family to travel from the capped budget. It recommends a tightening up of the definition of ‘designated person’ so that it covers travel for dependent persons and carers only.
That the government:
- in respect of family reunion travel, introduce a requirement that the family traveller must:
- arrive at a destination no more than 24 hours before the senator’s or member’s arrival, and
- depart from a destination no more than 24 hours after the senator’s or member’s departure.
- amend the definition of ‘designated person’ to remove the current category of ‘any other member of the senator’s or member’s family’.
The joint whips’ submission to the committee noted that the government is committed to a more family friendly working environment. It proposed that a more detailed examination of family reunion travel should be undertaken to take account of the particular needs of senators and members with young children. The committee also received a submission from a current member seeking consideration of enhanced travel benefits when a member is a nursing mother.
The committee considered that there was not sufficient information available to it to make a comprehensive assessment of the need for travel assistance for parliamentarians with responsibility for young children. The committee therefore proposes that the government identify difficulties not common to the wider workforce which parliamentarians with carer responsibilities experience, and give consideration to measures to support them.
Currently senators and members are provided with a Commonwealth-leased private-plated vehicle which they can use for parliamentary, electorate or official business, family travel and private purposes, but not for commercial purposes. The minister issues a list of Australian-made standard vehicles from which senators and members request a vehicle. When a parliamentarian chooses not to be provided with a vehicle he or she can opt for payment of an additional $19,500 per annum of Electorate Allowance to meet the costs of transport within and for the service of the electorate.
The committee contemplated whether the ‘cashing out’ of the private-plated vehicle should be the standard option for all senators and members as was proposed in some submissions. The option of choosing either a standard Commonwealth-leased vehicle or cash-in-lieu is the approach available to senior staff employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 and the practice followed for most senior executives in the Australian Public Service. The committee considered it the appropriate approach for senators and members with the option to be exercised at the end of a lease.
In implementing this measure, the Remuneration Tribunal would determine the rate of the allowance to replace the current payment of additional Electorate Allowance. The allowance should not count as salary for the purposes of either of the parliamentary superannuation schemes and the government may need to regulate to achieve that result.
Currently parliamentarians make a personal contribution of $711 per annum towards the cost of the Commonwealth-provided vehicle. The committee noted that the requirement for a small co contribution to account for personal use no longer exists in the Australian Public Service and recommends that it also be discontinued for senators and members
That the government ask the Remuneration Tribunal to:
- provide senators and members with the option of choosing a standard Commonwealth- leased private-plated vehicle or an allowance in lieu of the vehicle (which would not count as salary for superannuation purposes), and
- remove the personal contribution of $711 paid annually by senators and members towards the cost of a Commonwealth-provided vehicle.
Currently the car transport provisions are uncapped and highly regulated. The committee considered capped allocations would provide a manageable opportunity to simplify the car transport provisions and provide greater flexibility in the choices that senators and members can make in meeting their particular needs. They would also reduce ad hoc demands for discretionary expenditure decisions to meet the individual circumstances of parliamentarians.
The committee therefore recommends that the minister commission Finance to develop a fully costed proposal for car transport allocations based on recent usage patterns. Tiered rates would be necessary to meet the additional requirements of parliamentary office holders when attending to parliamentary business and the geographical circumstances of the largest electorates.
The allocations would cover expenditure on all modes of car transport with the exception of a private-plated vehicle and the COMCAR shuttle arrangement organised by the chamber departments for parliamentary sittings. The allocation would include other COMCAR use, taxi and other hire cars, self-drive and chartered vehicles, four-wheel-drive vehicles for larger electorates and long and short term leased vehicles in Canberra. The reimbursement of minor travel costs such as parking at airports could also be included. Overnight rates of travel allowance would not be included and would remain determined by the Remuneration Tribunal.
The committee contemplated the introduction of a capped expenditure allocation to cover all modes of transport with the possible exception of regular travel to and from Canberra by scheduled airlines for the purposes of parliamentary and committee business. A ‘global’ capped allocation of this nature may ultimately provide the greatest degree of flexibility and simplicity. However, the committee considered that, given the sizeable allocations involved and the wide dispersion of expenditure needs across electorates, its more limited proposal was preferable as an initial step. The government may wish to review arrangements in the future.
That the government:
- introduce a car transport allocation to cover all forms of car transport for parliamentarians (apart from the private-plated vehicle), and
- develop tiered rates of allocation to account for the higher usage requirements of parliamentary office holders and representatives from the largest electorates.
Upon retirement, senators and members currently become eligible for either the Life Gold Pass or severance travel, depending on their length of service. Both schemes provide 25 return trips each year at Commonwealth expense. Severance travellers who have only served in one parliament are limited to 12 return trips during the six months following their retirement. Travel under the Life Gold Pass has a spouse travel component and may continue for the remainder of the former parliamentarian’s life, while severance travel is limited to the former parliamentarian only for a maximum of five years directly after retirement. In addition, the spouse/partner of current senators and members who have qualified for a Life Gold Pass are entitled to 25 return trips to Canberra per annum.
In reviewing the Life Gold Pass and severance travel provisions, the committee concluded that they could not be considered essential elements of a parliamentarian’s employment arrangements, nor were they benefits common to employment arrangements generally or for parliamentarians in other jurisdictions. The committee therefore recommends neither the Life Gold Pass nor severance travel should be available to those entering parliament from the next election.
The committee was aware that post-retirement travel, particularly the Life Gold Pass entitlement, is the benefit which most fuels the public’s opprobrium about politicians and the perception of ‘enjoying perks’ that are out of keeping with community standards. The committee acknowledged evidence that some former senators and members use their Life Gold Pass travel to support charities and in other ways to benefit the community.
The committee recommends abolishing the entitlement prospectively. It considers, however, that current pass holders and severance travellers should be permitted to retain a reduced entitlement to travel on the basis that former and current senators and members entered the parliament with the understanding that post-retirement travel formed part of their benefits, and may have made commitments on that basis. The current entitlement of 25 return trips per annum within Australia should be reduced to 10.
That the government:
- abolish the Life Gold Pass scheme prospectively so that it would not be available to those who enter parliament at or after the next federal election
- reduce the Life Gold Pass scheme for existing pass holders from 25 to 10 return trips within Australia per annum
- retain the reduced benefit for current senators and members who have qualified for a Life Gold Pass at the date of the government’s announcement of this decision, and
- reduce the entitlement of the spouse/partner of current senators and members who have qualified for a Life Gold Pass at the date of the government’s announcement of this decision from 25 to 10 return trips to Canberra per annum.
That the government:
- abolish the severance travel scheme prospectively so that it would not be available to those senators and members who enter parliament at or after the next federal election
- reduce the travel provided for existing severance travellers from 25 to 10 (and from 12 to five) return trips within Australia per annum up to the maximum of five years, and
- retain a severance travel benefit for those current senators and members who have not qualified for a Life Gold Pass at the date of the government’s announcement of this decision based on their service in parliament up to that time.
The committee recognised the benefit of parliamentarians’ travelling overseas for study purposes, considering it reasonable and desirable that federal representatives gain some international experience to inform their contributions as members of the Australian parliament. However, the committee did not consider that the overseas study travel entitlements presented the best means for delivering this developmental experience.
Overseas Study Travel also attracts the public’s opprobrium about politicians and the perception of receiving benefits that are not in keeping with community standards. When travel expenses are tabled in the parliament every six months, overseas travel usually receives criticism. One aspect of the current entitlement which particularly attracts adverse comment is the practice of senators and members who do not intend to recontest the next federal election accessing their Overseas Study Travel in their final term.
The committee considered that there was also an arguably significant element of personal benefit included in this allowance which, in keeping with the committee’s broader views on the bifurcation of remuneration and tools of trade, would be more appropriately delivered through salary.
The committee concluded that the overseas study travel entitlement should be rolled into salary according to the overall average cost of expenditure. This would have a number of benefits:
- all overseas study travel would be by private arrangement with costs personally met by the parliamentarian, whose base salary would take this into account
- parliamentarians would be entitled to claim any business-related activities as tax deductions according to the rules of proof that apply to the broader community
- the complications of accessing parliamentary allowances for an opaque mix of business and personal purposes would be removed, and
- the requirement of reporting to parliament, currently observed to varying standards, would no longer be necessary.
The committee noted a need for transitional arrangements for current senators and members who have an accrued Overseas Study Travel benefit and who are entitled to carry forward to the next parliament up to 50% of the total value of the benefit. The committee considered that current senators and members whose accrued Overseas Study Travel benefit has a residual balance should be able to use their balance for overseas travel during the next parliament only.
That the government ask the Remuneration Tribunal to:
- cash out overseas study travel and include in basic parliamentary salary an amount that reflects the annual average cost of that travel in compensation, and
- remove accrual of this entitlement from the date of the government’s announcement of this decision.
Item 9, Part 1, Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 (PE Act) sets out the costs that will be met for travel overseas as a member of a parliamentary delegation, other than an Inter Parliamentary Union or Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation, within a program approved for each calendar year by the prime minister.
The cost of travel specified in item 9 is at the highest class available. The committee considered that, in the interests of consistency, the class of travel for delegations should be the same as that provided for ministerial travel overseas. Aligning the class of travel with ministerial travel would provide first class or equivalent travel for flights of ten hours or greater scheduled duration, and business class or equivalent travel for flights of less than ten hours scheduled duration, for the most direct and reasonable route and in accordance with the official itinerary.
The committee examined the provisions of item 9 and considered that they would benefit from redrafting for clarity and consistency with related entitlements.
That the government amend item 9 of Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 to clarify the entitlement to overseas travel as a member of a parliamentary delegation and improve its consistency with related provisions.
The committee also took into account the current arrangement for ministerial overseas travel which provides that, as a general rule, ministers should not be accompanied by their spouses on official overseas travel. The committee recognised the value of senators and members participating in travel on parliamentary delegation. However it was not persuaded that there is a continuing justification for the spouse or partner to accompany a parliamentarian at public expense. Accordingly it has recommended that this provision be removed.
That the government remove the provision under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 for a spouse/partner to travel overseas on parliamentary delegations.
Additional travel for children of senior officers 70
In keeping with the committee’s more general consideration of family travel it also examined the additional family travel provided under the PE Act above the basic family reunion provided to all senators and members. The current provisions in the PE Act are:
- three economy class return visits between Canberra and electorate each year for the dependent children of a senior officer, and
- subject to the approval of the minister:
- one return visit to any place in Australia each year
- travel to and from any parliamentary functions in Canberra attended by the senior officer or spouse
- travel between place of residence and Canberra when the senior officer and spouse are in Canberra for lengthy periods.
The committee observed that the existing entitlement was so rarely used as to make it irrelevant and, accordingly, the committee recommends that the provisions be removed.
That the government remove the travel entitlements of the dependent children of a senior officer provided for under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990.
Under the PE Act the leader and deputy leader of the opposition are able to travel overseas on official business in addition to their overseas study travel entitlement. While accommodation, spouse travel, staff travel, medical and hospital expenses and various other costs are covered by the Commonwealth without limit, annual funding for fares is restricted to $8,889 and $5,818 per annum for the leader and deputy leader respectively. These amounts have remained unchanged since the entitlement was introduced in 1990 and have eroded in value.
The committee considered that it would be appropriate for both the leader and deputy leader of the opposition to be able to take the equivalent of one round-the-world business class trip each year while in office. The entitlement of a spouse or partner to accompany the leader and deputy leader should be consistent with the arrangements for ministers’ spouses or partners.
That the government increase the overseas travel entitlement for the leader and deputy leader of the opposition to the equivalent value of one round-the-world fare at business class each year.
Under the current framework, the relevant shadow minister with responsibility for the external territories may travel to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island, in the performance of duties or functions connected with the office of shadow minister.
Currently, there is no shadow minister whose title reflects responsibility for the external territories. In addition, a shadow minister for another portfolio, or a senator or member who has been invited by a minister may have legitimate business reasons to travel to the external territories. For these reasons, the committee has recommended that the current provisions be extended to shadow ministers with relevant portfolio responsibilities and senators and members who have been invited by a minister.
That the government extend eligibility for travel to the external territories to:
- a shadow minister with relevant portfolio responsibilities, and
- a senator or member who is invited to an external territory by a minister.
68. Submission to the review by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, p.2.
69. Currently, under Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2006/18, the definition of a designated person is:… a person or persons (not being a dependent child, spouse or nominee or a member of the staff of the senator or member) nominated by the senator or member who: is substantially dependent on the senator or member; or has significant caring responsibilities for:(i) a person substantially dependent on the senator or member; or (ii) the senator's or member's spouse, nominee, or dependent child; or is any other member of the senator's or member's family.
70. A senior officer is a minister, opposition office holder or a presiding officer.
Chapter 6 – Governance
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