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Review of Parliamentary Entitlements Committee Report April 2010

Executive Summary

The report of the Committee for the Review of Parliamentary Entitlements proposes a number of changes to improve the parliamentary entitlements framework.  The committee was appointed by the government following the release of a report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) on 8 September 2009 that was critical of the administration of parliamentary entitlements.  The committee’s work was guided by its terms of reference which were a mix of high level strategic issues and detailed specific references.  It represents the first comprehensive review of federal parliamentary entitlements in over 35 years.

The committee concluded that the existing arrangements are an extraordinarily complex plethora of entitlements containing myriad ambiguities.  The current framework comprises:  at least 11 Acts of Parliament; three sets of regulations; six Remuneration Tribunal determinations and reports; 21 determinations made by the Special Minister of State (the minister) under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 and nine formal procedural rules and sets of guidelines made by the minister to give effect to Remuneration Tribunal determinations.

This mix of primary legislation, regulations, determinations, procedural rules, executive decisions, accepted conventions and administrative practices has resulted over the years in inconsistency, ambiguity, duplication, overlap, redundancy and gaps in the framework.  To illustrate with just one example:  telephone services for senators and members are provided through seven overlapping entitlements under four heads of authority.

No-one should be required to work within such a complex system; neither senators and members nor those required to administer the entitlements.  The need for greater simplicity and transparency was therefore important in the committee’s considerations.

The committee’s recommendations aim to ensure that senators and members are given relevant and adequate resources to do their jobs within a simplified, transparent and accountable framework that has regard to contemporary community standards.  In making its recommendations, the committee has endeavoured to strike a balance between the needs of parliamentarians and public confidence in the appropriateness of the level of support provided to elected representatives.

The first three chapters of this report provide background to the review:  the geneses of the review; an overview of earlier reviews by independent committees as well as by the ANAO; the multiple roles of the modern federal parliamentarian; and the limitations of the current framework.  Appendix 1 outlines features of parliamentary entitlements systems in selected overseas jurisdictions and Appendix 2 covers the themes of submissions received by the committee.  Chapters 4 to 8 cover the committee’s discussion of key issues and its recommendations.

Entitlements Framework

The committee observed a system of entitlements derived from a number of sources which, over time, has become less transparent as the number and diversity of benefits provided to senators and members have increased.

The committee considered it important to separate remuneration from the tools of trade or means by which senators and members carry out their roles (for example, office facilities and transport).  The first should be determined by the Remuneration Tribunal and the second should be covered by a single piece of legislation, administered by the minister, which resolves issues of overlap, inconsistency and duplication.

Since 1990 the Remuneration Tribunal has had only an advisory role in determining the base salary of members of parliament.  The committee considered that the Tribunal should be given back the power to determine parliamentary salaries directly, and the parliament’s right of disallowance by means of a majority resolution in either house should be removed.  The committee did not propose the removal of the disallowance power lightly, but concluded that it was important that the advantages of an independent Tribunal be used to the full and that determinations should be implemented without the intrusion of politics.  The parliament would of course retain the power to consider legislation introduced specifically to set parliamentary remuneration.

The tools of trade matters, given the detail involved and the delivery and administration required, would appropriately be determined by the minister under regulations approved by the parliament.

The committee considered that in setting tools of trade entitlements, the executive should draw on advice from an independent advisory committee convened at least once in the life of each parliament, to ensure that the tools provided continue to be appropriate to the contemporary role of a federal parliamentarian.

Remuneration

The committee considered that all salary matters should be determined independently by the Remuneration Tribunal following a work value assessment.  In the committee’s view, the level of parliamentary remuneration would be more transparent if all entitlements providing a personal benefit, such as electorate allowance, were considered to be part of salary. 

The electorate allowance was introduced to cover members’ business expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.  It was intended to cover items such as additional accommodation expenses, donations and subscriptions to associations, clubs and institutions.1  The Remuneration Tribunal considers that the time has come when the nature of the electorate allowance should be changed.  The committee has concluded that electorate allowance should be regarded as salary, principally for reasons of clarity and transparency.  The committee noted that the gap between the electorate allowance and electorate expenses allowed by the tax commissioner is taxed as income.  In recommending that the allowance be treated as salary, the committee is not recommending an increase in remuneration; rather it proposes a restructuring of the existing package.  Senators and members would receive payment of electorate allowance as part of salary and it would be taxed as salary.

The committee noted the strong public sentiment that publicly funded post-retirement travel, i.e. Life Gold Pass and severance travel, is a benefit not in keeping with community standards.  The committee has recommended that post-retirement travel be abolished for those who enter parliament at or after the next federal election.  The committee has also recommended a significant reduction in the entitlement for current beneficiaries from 25 to 10 return trips per year.  The committee has recommended retention of this reduced benefit for current beneficiaries as they entered parliament with the understanding that post-retirement travel formed part of their benefits.

The committee also examined submissions relating to resettlement in the period immediately following a parliamentarian’s loss of office, proposing assistance in the transition to another career.  The committee has recommended additional support for more recently elected senators and members, who are not eligible for superannuation payments as they have not reached the age of 55.

The committee noted the lack of workers’ compensation insurance for parliamentarians.  This represents a gap in the existing framework that is out of step with community standards and the committee has recommended that a legislative solution be developed.

Governance

The committee endorsed the government’s recent decision to publish details of all expenditure on parliamentary entitlements administered by Department of Finance and Deregulation and has recommended that this decision be underpinned with a legislative basis.  It has also recommended that all senators and members be required to provide a link on their official parliamentary website to their individual expenditure reports.

The committee was aware of the problems surrounding the attempt to define the term ‘electioneering’ in respect of the printing and communications entitlement.  The effect was to limit the content of printed material that could be produced under the entitlement.  However, the definition proved difficult to administer because of its inherent subjectivity and was eventually removed from the regulations.

The committee concluded that reaching agreement on statutory definitions of parliamentarians’ business and the ongoing application of these definitions would present intrinsic difficulties.  As an alternative, the committee has suggested that the government identify activities that, regardless of the category of business in which they might fall, would be publicly funded (for example participating in public debate, attending meetings and representing the interests of constituents), or would not (for example producing and distributing how-to-vote material).  Activities that were not identified would not be publicly funded.

The committee was asked to examine the appropriate use of entitlements during election campaigns and has recommended that restrictions be placed on some entitlements during this period.  The committee has recommended that access to the printing and communications entitlement stop from the day the prime minister announces the election date until the day after polling day.  The committee was concerned about the practice of personal staff working at their employer’s political party headquarters and claiming travelling allowance for extended periods in the lead-up to elections.  Appendix 5 demonstrates the extent of such travelling allowance payments at the time of the 2004 and 2007 elections.  Accordingly, the committee has recommended that restrictions be placed on the payment of travelling allowance during this period.

The committee has also recommended that the use, at any time, of the printing and communications entitlement for the production and distribution of postal vote application forms cease.

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 committee considered various aspects of travel to assess their continuing relevance, and identify where flexibility and simplicity could be improved.

The committee concluded that the overseas study travel entitlement would more appropriately be regarded as salary as it includes elements of a personal benefit.  The committee has therefore recommended that the current entitlement cease and that the Remuneration Tribunal consider a salary adjustment, taking into account the annual average expenditure on this travel.  While the committee agreed that the entitlement should end, it did not suggest that senators and members should not travel overseas.  With the benefit cashed out, senators and members would be able to use their salaries to fund overseas travel according to their particular requirements.

The committee has recommended that parliamentarians be given an option to take an allowance in lieu of a private-plated vehicle.  Another proposed flexibility is that parliamentarians be provided with a car transport budget allocation to cover all other forms of car transport (for example, taxis, hire cars, COMCAR) rather than the current set of individual, rigid entitlements.  This would simplify the numerous car transport provisions and provide parliamentarians with flexibility in meeting their car transport needs.

Other matters

The committee examined a range of other matters, either as required by its terms of reference or because an issue was raised in a submission. 

The committee sought to provide appropriate recognition of the role of the opposition and has recommended that the government consider:  an increase in the overseas travel entitlement for the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition (so that it is updated to the equivalent of one round-the-world business class trip each year while in office);  the provision of modest information resources at Parliament House; and having the Remuneration Tribunal consider additional remuneration for shadow ministers as part of a work value study.

While the committee’s terms of reference permit it to address the inter relationship with the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (MOP(S) Act) employment framework the committee has interpreted this to refer only to employment issues broadly.  The committee did not examine the MOP(S) Act employment framework minutely as there is a staff-negotiated enterprise agreement in train to undertake that process. 

The committee did consider the issue of the employment of family members by senators and members and has recommended conditions to improve transparency.

The committee, noting the introduction in 2008 of a code of conduct for ministerial staff, has recommended the introduction of a requirement for non-ministerial MOP(S) Act employees to declare in writing to their employers the nature of any secondary employment in which they are engaged, so that the employing senators and members can judge if a conflict of interests exists.

Summary of recommendations

The committee’s recommendations are listed below and explained in more detail in Chapters 4 to 8 of this report.

Recommendation 1. Remuneration Tribunal

That the government:

  1. restore the power of the Remuneration Tribunal to determine parliamentary base salary
  2. require the Remuneration Tribunal to publish reasons for its decisions in relation to parliamentary remuneration, and
  3. remove the parliament’s ability to disallow parliamentary remuneration determinations made by the Remuneration Tribunal.

 

Recommendation 2. Determining tools of trade 

That the Special Minister of State:

  1. determine tools of trade entitlements under the regulating power of legislation and draw on advice from an advisory committee convened as required but at least once in the life of a parliament, and
  2. publish decisions on tools of trade matters, including any advice from the advisory committee and the government’s response to that committee’s recommendations.

 

Recommendation 3. Legislative model

That the government enact a single piece of legislation to provide for the regulation of the tools of trade provided to senators and members at public expense.

 

Recommendation 4. Allocation caps

That the government cap parliamentarians’ allocations at levels that have regard to patterns of actual use, while accepting the possibility of increased expenditure if more flexibility or additional facilities and services are later provided within the terms of each allocation.

 

Recommendation 5. Administration of allocations

That the government accompany the introduction of capped allocations with additional administrative controls, including auditing, transparent disclosure of expenditure and the provision of advice to senators and members about their level of use of each allocation.

 

Recommendation 6. Work value

That the government:

  1. ask the Remuneration Tribunal to:
    • conduct a work value assessment for federal parliamentary remuneration, re‑examine the relativities of the additional salaries paid to ministers and parliamentary office holders and determine an appropriate level of additional salary for shadow ministers
    • incorporate the base rate of electorate allowance into federal parliamentary salary, and
    • develop suitable arrangements in place of the higher levels of electorate allowance for members of the House of Representatives from the largest electorates.
  2. take legislative or regulatory measures to prevent future redetermination of entitlements that have been folded into salary unless offset by an appropriate reduction in salary.

 

Recommendation 7. Consequential effects on superannuation

That the government take preventative measures so that the folding-in of electorate allowance does not flow to the retirement benefits of members of the parliamentary contributory superannuation scheme established under the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1948.

 

Recommendation 8. Consequential effects on states and territories

That the government provide early advice to premiers and chief ministers of any potential for flow‑on effects to state and territory parliamentary salaries.

 

Recommendation 9. Resettlement 

That the government ask the Remuneration Tribunal to determine:

  1. an additional allowance of one month’s salary per year of service in the parliament (up to a maximum of six months’ salary) to be provided to senators and members who joined the parliament at or since the November 2004 election, who have:
    • retired involuntarily, and
    • are not able to access a pension or superannuation benefit (related to their service in the parliament) immediately upon ceasing to be a member of parliament, and
    • have served three years or more in the federal parliament.
  2. a career transition allowance of up to $5,000, to be available on a reimbursement basis for those senators and members who:
    • have joined the parliament at or since the November 2001 election, and
    • are not able to access a pension or superannuation benefit (related to their service in the parliament) immediately upon ceasing to be a member of parliament, and
    • have retired involuntarily.

 

Recommendation 10. Insurance

That the government:

  1. establish a legislative basis to provide senators and members with workers’ compensation insurance at Commonwealth expense, and
  2. note the absence of public liability insurance coverage for senators and members at Commonwealth expense.

 

Recommendation 11. Transparency

  1. That the government’s decision to publish details of all expenditure on parliamentary entitlements administered by the Department of Finance and Deregulation be underpinned with a legislative basis.
  2. That all senators and members be required to provide a link on their official parliamentary websites (at www.aph.gov.au) to their individual expenditure reports on the Finance website.
  3. That the presiding officers be encouraged to publish on a regular basis details of expenditure on services and facilities provided to individual senators and members by the chamber departments.

 

Recommendation 12. Protocol for handling allegations of misuse

That the government ask the Department of Finance and Deregulation to amend the Protocol for Handling Allegations of Alleged Misuse of Entitlement by a Member or Senator to:

  1. clarify that the only threshold test for investigating a complaint is whether the complaint is credible
  2. reflect the existing practice under which the Special Minister of State writes to a senator or member about an alleged minor misuse of entitlements, and
  3. reflect the existing practice that a high level departmental advisory committee will notify the Special Minister of State of a decision to refer a matter to the Australian Federal Police at the same time as the referral is made.

 

Recommendation 13. Accountability

That the Special Minister of State, on the advice of the Department of Finance and Deregulation, table in the parliament:

  1. the name of any sitting or former senator or member who has not substantially complied with a request for information about an alleged entitlement misuse within a reasonable time (for example, 28 days)
  2. the outcome of the investigation into the complaint, and
  3. regular reports setting out each senator’s and member’s compliance with the requirement for certification that entitlements have been accessed in accordance with the relevant legislation, including any justification given by the senator or member for non-compliance with the requirement.

 

Recommendation 14. Postal vote applications

That the government remove the entitlement for senators and members to use their printing and communications entitlement to produce and distribute postal vote applications.

 

Recommendation 15. Printing and communications entitlement

That the government:

  1. remove access to the printing and communications entitlement from the date of the announcement of a federal election to the day after the corresponding polling day, and
  2. undertake a future assessment of the use of the entitlement and, if there remains cause for concern, consider mechanisms for removing access to the entitlement for a period prior to the announcement of a federal election.

 

Recommendation 16. Use of personal staff at campaign headquarters

That the government, from the date of a prime minister’s announcement of a federal election until the day after the corresponding polling day, remove access to travelling allowance for staff employed under Part III of the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 when they undertake travel independently of their employer to the city in which their employer’s party’s campaign headquarters is based.

 

Recommendation 17. Family reunion travel

That the government:

  1. 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.
  2. amend the definition of ‘designated person’ to remove the current category of ‘any other member of the senator’s or member’s family’.

 

Recommendation 18. Private-plated vehicle

That the government ask the Remuneration Tribunal to:

  1. 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
  2. remove the personal contribution of $711 paid annually by senators and members towards the cost of a Commonwealth-provided vehicle.

 

Recommendation 19. Car transport allocations

That the government:

  1. introduce a car transport allocation to cover all forms of car transport for parliamentarians (apart from the private-plated vehicle), and
  2. develop tiered rates of allocation to account for the higher usage requirements of parliamentary office holders and representatives from the largest electorates.

 

Recommendation 20. Life Gold Pass

That the government:

  1. 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
  2. reduce the Life Gold Pass scheme for existing pass holders from 25 to 10 return trips within Australia per annum
  3. 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
  4. 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.

 

Recommendation 21. Severance travel

That the government:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.

 

Recommendation 22. Overseas study travel

That the government ask the Remuneration Tribunal to:

  1. 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
  2. remove accrual of this entitlement from the date of the government’s announcement of this decision.

 

Recommendation 23. Overseas delegation travel

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.

 

Recommendation 24. Overseas delegation – spouse travel

That the government remove the provision under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 for a spouse/partner to travel overseas on parliamentary delegations.

 

Recommendation 25. Additional travel for children of senior officers

That the government remove the travel entitlements of the dependent children of a senior officer provided under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990.

 

Recommendation 26. Overseas travel - Opposition

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.

 

Recommendation 27. Travel to external territories

That the government extend eligibility for travel to the external territories to:

  1. a shadow minister with relevant portfolio responsibilities, and
  2. a senator or member who is invited to an external territory by a minister.

 

Recommendation 28. Employment of family members

That the government:

  1. 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.
  2. define a ‘close family member’ as a spouse, partner or child of the senator or member, or a child of the spouse or partner of the senator or member.

 

Recommendation 29. Entitlements provided at Parliament House

That the government:

  1. discontinue the provision of a portion of the communications entitlement at Parliament House
  2. discontinue the photographic entitlement provided under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990
  3. review the arrangements for the COMCAR shuttle, and
  4. provide opposition office holders with an information resources entitlement at Parliament House.

 

Recommendation 30. Office equipment

  1. That the Department of Finance and Deregulation continue to provide major and essential office facilities to senators and members on an ‘as needed’ basis.
  2. 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.

 

Recommendation 31. Electorate office IT equipment

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.

 

Recommendation 32. Software allowance

That the government absorb the software allowance into the printing and communications entitlement.

 

Recommendation 33. Travelling allowance for shadow ministers

That the government review the conditions of travelling allowance for shadow ministers.

 

Recommendation 34. Travelling allowance for the second deputy speaker in the House of Representatives

That the government remove the travelling allowance for travel connected with the office of second deputy speaker in the House of Representatives.

 

Recommendation 35. 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.

 

Recommendation 36. Former governors-general

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.

 

Recommendation 37. MOP(S) Act employees

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.

 

Recommendation 38. Opposition personal staffing profile

That the government consider reviewing the profile of the opposition’s personal staff allocation.

 

Recommendation 39. Parliamentary office holders

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.


1. Remuneration Tribunal (1974) Review, Canberra, p.13.

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Last Modified: 28 March, 2011