Review of Parliamentary Entitlements Committee Report April 2010
Chapter 8 - Other Issues
The committee examined a range of other provisions, either as required by its terms of reference or because the issue was raised in submission to it. The committee’s comments and recommendations on these matters are discussed in this chapter.
While the Standards of Ministerial Ethics do not permit ministers to employ close family members or partners (or for them to be employed in the offices of other executive members) without the prime minister’s approval, there is currently no restriction on other senators and members employing close family members.
The committee is aware that in overseas jurisdictions examined during the course of the review the employment by members of parliament of family members is generally prohibited or is in transition to prohibition. Employment of family members may not be consistent with good, merit-based employment practices.
In the Australian context the committee was conscious that there might be circumstances that justify the employment of a family member. This may be the case, for example, in remote areas where it might be difficult to attract suitable staff; or in circumstances where the senator or member is disabled and requires an increased level of support to undertake his or her role as a parliamentarian.
To reduce the risks posed by employing a close family member, however, the committee is recommending that conditions be imposed on the practice so that each appointment is transparent. These arrangements should apply to all appointments other than those by ministers (as they are already not permitted to employ family members) including appointments against the Relief Staff Budget.
That the government:
- introduce the following conditions to the employment of close family members by senators and members, under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984:
- senators and members must declare the employment of a close family member to their party leader and the Department of Finance and Deregulation at the time of the appointment, and
- the relationship and level of the position occupied by the close family member be included in the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 Annual Report.
The Committee’s terms of reference require that “in formulating advice and recommendations, the review should have regard to...entitlements provided at Parliament House”.
The committee considered it was outside its terms of reference to review the general provision of services at Parliament House to senators and members. Accordingly it considered only the limited number of entitlements funded by Finance but delivered by the chamber departments to senators and members. These are postage for use at Parliament House, transfer of bulk papers to and from Parliament House to the electorate, the cost of government publications, the COMCAR shuttle, and photographic services provided in Parliament House.
Under longstanding arrangements, $450 per quarter of the communications entitlement is delivered at Parliament House. Senators and members are issued with an authority by the chamber departments which they redeem at the Parliament House Post Office for postage items. The committee considered this to be an anachronistic provision which pre-dates the availability of electronic communication such as email, websites and mobile phones. In the interests of simplification of the framework, the committee recommends the arrangement be discontinued.
The entitlement of two photographic sessions a year is delivered through AUSPIC, a small group of photographers who are accommodated in Parliament House. Given the availability of photographers in every shopping precinct and the advent of high quality, low cost, digital photographic consumer products, the committee was not persuaded that there was any compelling reason to maintain a specifically funded unit to take parliamentarians’ photographs. Discontinuation of this entitlement would be consistent with the aim of simplifying the framework. When the government requires photographic services they can be obtained from commercial sources. Senators and members should be able to purchase a camera and associated photographic products from their existing capped office requisites allocation.
The committee noted that while this service is arranged by the chamber departments, it is funded by Finance. The split in roles has resulted in some inefficiency in delivering the service. The committee recommends that the arrangements for the shuttle be reviewed.
Since the closure of government bookshops in 2004 this has been a redundant provision and its removal would be consistent with the aim of simplifying the framework.
The committee noted that there is currently an entitlement for opposition office holders to be provided with postage at Parliament House but no entitlement to media monitoring services, newspapers and periodicals. Currently such support is provided by the chamber departments out of their departmental funding and is therefore subject to the efficiency dividend. The committee considers that it is the interests of the democratic process to provide a level of support to the opposition to access information services. The committee recommends that an entitlement be created for the opposition office holders to be provided with information resources at Parliament House.
That the government:
- discontinue the provision of a portion of the communications entitlement at Parliament House
- discontinue the photographic entitlement provided under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990
- review the arrangements for the COMCAR shuttle, and
- provide opposition office holders with an information resources entitlement at Parliament House.
The whips proposed in their joint submission to the committee that salary be paid to senators and members fortnightly in line with community standards. The current long-standing arrangement of paying parliamentarians’ salary monthly appears to have no legislative basis. The government may wish to consider raising this matter with the presiding officers.
The committee’s terms of reference require that “in formulating advice and recommendations, the review should have regard to…the development of a new simplified framework”.
Currently, under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990, the Special Minister of State (the minister) approves office accommodation in the electorate together with equipment and facilities necessary to operate the office. This requirement results in a steady stream of requests from senators and members for relatively minor equipment to be provided or varied.
Providing senators and members a limited discretionary office equipment allocation would allow them the flexibility to tailor offices to meet their working requirements. It would have the added benefit of streamlining administration by removing the need for the minister to consider each request for the standard rollout of equipment to be varied.
The committee therefore recommends that the minister commission Finance to:
- develop a fully costed proposal for a discretionary office equipment allocation, and
- consider the development of a discretionary office IT equipment allocation.
These allocations would be based on recent usage patterns for minor or discretionary items that are currently provided to electorate offices. The allocations would cover expenditure on a range of items selected by the senator or member for business use consistent with the purposes for which the office is provided.
The committee further recommends that Finance continue to meet all costs that might be characterised as:
- mandatory costs that arise from statutory obligations
- costs where discretion is limited by whole-of-government policies
- costs that relate to the rental, fit-out and maintenance of property, or
- costs of items identified as major and essential items of office equipment.
- That the Department of Finance and Deregulation continue to provide major and essential office facilities to senators and members on an ‘as needed’ basis.
- That the government introduce a discretionary office equipment allocation to provide senators and members with the flexibility to purchase items that are work-related, but not offered as part of the rollout of major and essential office facilities.
Responsibility for the delivery and administration of Electorate Office IT Services, including the possible transfer of electorate office IT services from Finance to the Department of Parliamentary Services, is currently being considered by the government. The committee thought it appropriate that providing a discretionary IT equipment allocation be considered within this context.
The committee noted that network compatibility and convergence issues71 would need to be considered during the design of both a discretionary IT equipment allocation and a discretionary office equipment allocation. Should the government decide to introduce discretionary allocations for each class of equipment (IT and non-IT) it may be appropriate to consolidate the allocations to provide greater flexibility under consistent conditions. However, should the government decide to maintain separate allocations, or not to introduce an IT allocation at all, it would need to consider the extent to which equipment with an IT component could be purchased and supported under the (non-IT) office equipment allocation.
That the government consider the introduction of a discretionary IT equipment allocation within the context of the possible transfer of electorate office IT services from the Department of Finance and Deregulation to the Department of Parliamentary Services.
The committee’s terms of reference require that ”the review will provide advice and recommendations to government addressing issues such as...recommending framework changes that remove instances of overlap, duplication, inconsistency and gaps in the provision of entitlements”.
Under item 7(1), Part 1, Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990, each senator and member is provided with a software allowance with a current value of $1,500 pa. This entitlement overlaps with the provision of IT facilities to electorate offices, and with the printing and communications entitlement.
Senators and members from parliamentary political parties are limited to claiming reimbursement in respect of software nominated by the national secretariat of their political party. Independent senators and members may procure the software of their choice. The software nominated by each major party is database software used to generate tailored letters to constituents.
To simplify the entitlements framework, the committee recommends that these costs be met from the capped printing and communications entitlement.
That the government absorb the software allowance into the printing and communications entitlement.
Should the government accept the committee’s recommendation to divide the current entitlements framework into remuneration and tools of trade allocations, it is proposed that responsibility for setting the rates of travelling allowance remain with the Remuneration Tribunal, while responsibility for setting the conditions of travelling allowance be transferred to the minister.
To simplify the entitlements framework, and to make the conditions that apply to travelling allowance more internally consistent, the committee recommended that the current provisions relating to travelling allowance for shadow ministers be examined.
That the government review the conditions of travelling allowance for shadow ministers.
The committee recommended that this seldom used entitlement72, which is inconsistent with the travel entitlements of the second deputy speaker, be removed in the interests of simplifying the entitlements framework.
That the government remove the travelling allowance for travel connected with the office of second deputy speaker in the House of Representatives.
In addition to the benefits afforded under the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1948, the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 and the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) Act 2002, former prime ministers are traditionally provided a number of facilities at the discretion of the prime minister of the day. The facilities are seen as being in recognition of services to Australia and to enable the former prime ministers to meet the continuing commitments that arise from the office they once held.
The committee considered that of all former parliamentarians, former prime ministers have the greatest ongoing demands on their time due to their continuing high community profile. Among many other calls on their time, they are sought after as guests at national ceremonial events, public speakers and patrons of charitable organisations. These activities can involve significant travel, administration and other expenses which few members of the community would face, and which the committee does not consider should have to be met entirely from their own resources.
While each former prime minister’s entitlements are individually determined by the incoming prime minister, they have come to be largely uniform in nature. The prime minister can also determine ad hoc benefits on a case-by-case basis. In light of the committee’s recommendations relating to the Life Gold Pass, the prime minister would need to consider the domestic travel that former prime ministers undertake as a direct result of their previous office.
The committee considered it appropriate that a legislated head of authority be created to provide benefits to former prime ministers.
That the government create a legislated head of authority for the provision of benefits to former prime ministers at the discretion of the prime minister of the day.
The Governor-General Act 1974 sets out a number of provisions relating to the Office of Governor General, including an allowance payable to a person who has previously held the office, or their widow/widower. In addition, former governors-general are traditionally afforded a number of facilities at the discretion of the prime minister of the day.
Benefits to enable former governors general to fulfil ongoing public commitments that may continue long after they have completed their term were considered by the committee to be appropriate. The committee noted that former governors-general are not eligible for the Life Gold Pass by virtue of that office, though some may qualify if they were parliamentarians prior to their appointment. As with former prime ministers, the committee considered it appropriate that a legislated head of authority be created for these benefits.
That the government create a legislated head of authority to provide benefits to former governors-general at the discretion of the prime minister of the day.
The minister announced in September 2009 that Finance would publish all expenditure of senators, members, former parliamentarians, family members and employees. It would be appropriate that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet do likewise in relation to former governors-general.
The committee’s terms of reference request that it give regard to the inter-relationship with the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (MOP(S) Act).
The committee noted that there is currently a Code of Conduct for ministerial staff, but no similar guidance is provided for all other categories of MOP(S) Act employees. While aspects of the code for ministerial staff are not applicable more broadly, the committee considered that the absence of rules on secondary employment undertaken by staff represented a particular risk for senators and members.
The committee concluded that there would be benefit in the government introducing a requirement that all MOP(S) Act employees not subject to the code of conduct for ministerial staff declare in writing any secondary employment to their employing senator or member. The employing senator or member would then evaluate whether a conflict or perception of a conflict of interests existed. As a matter of record, a copy of any declaration should be provided to Finance.
That the government consider introducing a requirement that all staff employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 who are not subject to the code of conduct for ministerial staff make a written declaration to their employing senator or member regarding any secondary employment, with a copy of the declaration to be provided to the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
The prime minister allocates a block of personal employee positions to the leader of the opposition, who then allocates these positions among his office and those of other opposition office holders and shadow ministers. Since the 1990s, the opposition allocation has been based on 21 per cent of the total government personal staff of the day.
The committee recommends that the government consider reviewing the profile of the opposition’s allocation to ensure that the spread of classifications is roughly equivalent to the profile of the government allocation.
That the government consider reviewing the profile of the opposition’s personal staff allocation.
The current definition of parliamentary office holder is set out in the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1994 as “a person holding a particular office, or performing particular functions, in or in relation to the Parliament or either House of the Parliament”. The committee considered this definition to be imprecise and agreed it could be improved for the purposes of administering parliamentary entitlements.
The committee has recommended separately (Chapter 5: Remuneration) that the Remuneration Tribunal be asked to review the relativities applied in setting additional salaries for various office holders. The committee expects the results will give greater recognition to the various parliamentary career paths that are open to senators and members in addition to ministerial portfolios. The committee considered the information gathered may also prove useful in developing a tiered structure for standardising the various additional tools of trade benefits for office holders with similar profiles and responsibilities.
That, on completion of the Remuneration Tribunal’s review of the relativities of additional salaries for ministers and parliamentary office holders, the government consider developing a tiered structure of office holders for the purposes of standardising tools of trade benefits. This structure would be informed by, but not necessarily identical to, the relativities determined by the Remuneration Tribunal.
71. Items of office equipment previously characterised as ‘non-IT’, such as mobile telephones, voice recorders, cameras and photocopiers, increasingly have a digital component and are capable of being connected to a network. Maintaining a rigid distinction between ‘IT’ and ‘non-IT’ equipment will become increasingly difficult as convergence increases.
72. Finance records indicate that there has been only one claim against this clause – for one night in 2004.
Chapter 7 – Travel
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