It’s 2017 and I Can’t Believe We’re Still Debating … Political Entitlements

By Lara Robertson

“The age of entitlement is over,” declared former Treasurer Joe Hockey in 2014.

But for whom? The so-called “age of entitlement” certainly lives on for politicians, as well as the wealthy corporations that line their pockets.

Hockey, the very same man who told Australians to be “lifters not leaners,” was a recipient of an outrageously generous $370,000 per year salary, (not to mention a lifetime pension of $90,000 per year) yet he didn’t bat an eyelid when he charged taxpayers for babysitters, lavish dinners and housekeepers.

In 2015, former Speaker for the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, made headlines when she charged taxpayers $5,000 for an 80 kilometre chartered helicopter flight from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal Party function. Further investigations uncovered more instances of Bishop’s excessive spending of taxpayer dollars, which was argued to be “within entitlements and in accordance with parliamentary guidelines.” Facing outrage from the Australian public in the wake of these findings, former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, stated that a “fundamental review” of the ministerial entitlements system would be undertaken.

However, we are currently seeing a flood of similar headlines: taxpayers charged for ministers to attend AFL Grand Finals, fundraisers, parties and dinners (including expensive bottles of wine) and for partners and family members to travel business class. In response to these findings, Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced that an independent parliamentary authority will be set up to monitor and assess the expenses of Federal MPs, modelled on the UK’s entitlement system.

Whilst this is certainly a step in the right direction, will it change anything? MPs caught up in the scandal have already stated that their spending was within guidelines. Clearly, the guidelines themselves need to change.

This problem is an institutionalised one, with politicians (pretty understandably) not wanting to let go of the entitlements they have enjoyed for so long.

But enough is enough.

If the government is really concerned about a budget deficit, perhaps they should first take a good, hard look in the mirror.

The age of entitlement should be over.