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MPs abusing their gravy train

LORD Acton’s famous line about absolute power corrupting absolutely is something some of our MPs ought to give serious thought to now that the flak over the $50,000 Reith Affair is fast fading.

During the affair an astute observer of MPs perks and habits with whom I often speak said he thought Labor ought to be cautious “because it probably won’t take much looking in their backyard to find something similar”.

Within days a Labor Senator was revealed having allowed use of a tax-funded vehicle by her son who on-lent it to a girlfriend who was involved in a fatal under the influence.

Both incidents are just the tip of the iceberg, says Independent MLC Mark Nevill.

He says our party political system is overflowing with constant and regular misuse of taxpayer-funded benefits by some MPs who give party candidates access to their facilities especially at election time. From my experiences he’s hit the nail on the head.

During the last Federal election campaign a candidate tipped me off that a Federal MP was using his $22,000 annual mailing allowance to post out political propaganda to electors on behalf of a candidate of his party.

Far from being a rare occurrence I quickly discovered that MP was only one among many involved in this practice.

I and another journalist assigned to investigate this practice copied all the incriminating literature we collected, including envelopes franked in several WA Senators’ offices, and dispatched it to the Remuneration Tribunal in Canberra.

(If Federal MPs do not spend their $22,000 they forfeit it, so there’s an incentive to spend it strategically).

That Tribunal, instead of launching an investigation by bringing in the Federal Police, replied by saying our information would be reviewed and that’s the last we’ve heard.

One would have considerable trouble finding a State or Federal MP not aware of such misuse of that MP perk, but to get someone to admit it is next to impossible as I learned during the last campaign.

Our political parties are now largely publicly financed entities, not self-standing voluntary associations. They have unfortunately managed to get their hands on to payments for every vote they receive at an election.

On top of that, some MP’s offices, telephones, postage, envelopes, photocopiers, faxes and, at times, even travel, have been used to help endorsed candidates at election.

This means some making our laws, which, we the people, must obey or face punishment, are permitting misuse of taxpayer-funded facilities.

Some years ago I talked to a candidate who made an interesting remark about a well-known MP.

I asked the candidate how he knew what he was alleging. He said he saw the information on a document in that MP’s office to which he had been given complete access.

Why, I asked, had he such open access?

Simple, to use the telephone for trunk calls during the election campaign the candidate was contesting.

This week Mr Nevill spoke out against this misuse of electoral offices and facilities.

He issued a press statement saying so but, strangely, our mainstream media ignored it.

“The Electoral Commissioner or a political ombudsman should be given the power to investigate the internal ballots, activities and disputes within political parties,” Mr Nevill said.

“State elections are largely funded by taxpayers through the use of facilities in Federal MPs’ offices and direct Federal election funding.

“Political parties need to be accountable because they are funded by taxpayers.

“WA’s political parties are not immune from the corrupt practises exposed in the Queensland ALP.

“Use of all Federal members’ facilities should be illegal in State elections.

“Ballots for political parties should be able to be scrutinised by the Electoral Commissioner or ombudsman, to address shonky party elections and memberships and to ensure our political parties are not controlled by power freaks and by Machiavellian means.

“Branch stacking, the payment and subsidising of membership was not an unusual practise in WA.

“Secret ballots were not the norm – if a person could not be trusted, their ballot paper was witnessed or they weren’t allowed to be a delegate in the more serious ballots. What most people don’t realise is that election campaigns and political parties are substantially funded by taxpayers.

“Facilities in offices of Federal MPs were extensively used in both State and Federal elections. Stationery, printing leaflets, folding machines, laser printers, postage and air charter were used.

“This provides a massive advantage to the parties of incumbent members.

“Leaflets for the State election campaign will be produced in Federal members offices.

“Politicians were always asking for the activities of others to be transparent – but avoided even rudimentary scrutiny of their own party activities.”

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