Anyone for polo?

Politicians must think we came down with the last shower if they imagine we accept the lame excuses of being “within the rules” and undertaking official ministerial business when it comes to these private jaunts that politicians are so fond of.

What possible official ministerial business is being undertaken when foreign minister, Julie Bishop, and her perennially tanned boyfriend attend the elite polo event in Portsea?  Give us a break.

The reality is she, along with others, take every opportunity to mix freebies in their private lives with ”official” business so they can sting the taxpayer for the costs of travel to and from these events.  If it’s not polo, it’s the football or the racing or New Year Eve’s parties or weddings.

And undertaking personal financial transactions, why not get the taxpayer to fund the trips?  A bit of “stakeholder consultation” should do it to justify the taxpayer paying the costs (which would be tax-deductible if undertaken privately).

What really gets my goat is the use of taxpayer monies to fund family holidays – come on down Chris Bowen, Tony Burke, Christopher Pyne, Bill Shorten, Brendan O’Connor and who knows who else?

Seriously?  If family members have to be reunited with parliamentarians (a pretty dubious justification), let them travel to Canberra for the joy of it all.

But we should not think this gaming of the system is confined to politicians. Statutory office holders and DFAT staffers (and seconded officers from other departments including Treasury and Defence) are adept at maximizing private financial gains and pleasures while sending the bill to the taxpayer.

It is a ironic in fact that Julie Bishop has ordered a review of the expenses of DFAT staff when overseas.  The perks, depending on the level, include:

  • Driver, cook and housekeeper are often included in the package;
  • Car provided;
  • Highly subsidised accommodation;
  • Top level health and dental expenses are all covered;
  • Regular trips back to Australia for the whole family (business class, of course);
  • Boarding school fees depending on the age of children;
  • Representation allowance;
  • Free communications, including for private needs.

DFAT staff game this system to an inch of its life having teeth capped while overseas, children’s orthodontic needs met, the timing of babies manipulated, school fees subsidised when returning to Canberra and the list goes on.

My view is that no one should be worse off if they are posted overseas.  But this stuff is just completely OTT.  Who needs a driver?  Just take UBER.  And cook and housekeeper?  Let’s get real.  It’s not the nineteenth century.

And certain statutory office holders really make the most on offer.  Certain members of the Fair Work Commission, for instance, are known to travel to cities at which major sporting events occur – just incidentally, of course.  This has been noticed by certain senior members of FWC but because the members effectively are autonomous and can decide their own work schedules and the places at which work is undertaken, this practice continues unconstrained.

If the public knew half the truth, there would be real revolt.  It is only when the truce between the two major parties breaks down that some of this is revealed.

But don’t think the REFORMS will change anything: the parties will sue for peace and this rorting of the public will continue.

Postscript: To show that the government is not serious about this stuff – just how pathetic is Scott Ryan, Special Minister for State, who used to believe in economic freedom – that he couldn’t get around to killing off the remnants of the Gold Pass, which would have taken five minutes to pass the House and Senate.  He has been sitting on the Tune/Conde report for over a year and done nothing.

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50 Responses to Anyone for polo?

  1. Infidel Tiger

    Been an expensive week for Versace clad Skeletor.

    She fleeced us for a trip to the polo and gave away a few tens of billions in maritime territory to the Timorese and soon to follow the Indos.

  2. Joe

    Judith, I agree with you on the perks for public servants. They should be curtailed. However, MP’s and senators jobs do include an element of wining and dining and travel. They are they ones suffering from the gotcha mentality of the rest of us. Cut them some slack and let them get on with the business of govt.

    I note, that it’s always the right side of politics that gets pinged for these petty “offences”, hardly ever the left side and when the left is pinged they simply ignore it.

  3. alexnoaholdmate

    Would an employee of a private business be allowed to do things this way? Of course not.

    And politicians reply, “But we aren’t employees of a private business. That’s a facile comparison. Everything I did was within the rules.”

    Maybe, maybe not – but that’s the whole point. The average Australian sees you getting away with things they themselves would never be able to get away with, and wonders why it’s so. Why the rules are different. And how in touch you can really be with the people you claim to represent when you keep taking their money in a manner of which they disapprove – within the rules or not – and act shocked when someone accuses you of misusing public funds.

    “But it’s within the rules!” Yes – that’s the problem.

  4. Joe

    Would an employee of a private business be allowed to do things this way?

    One of these things is not like the other!
    What happens in private business is in no way related to what happens in govt.

    Your argument reduces to petty jealousy. I can’t have it, mummy make them stop!

  5. chrisl

    Remind me again why I pay taxes…

  6. alexnoaholdmate

    One of these things is not like the other!
    What happens in private business is in no way related to what happens in govt
    .

    I would advise you not to read merely the first line of a post.

    Had you read the rest of mine, you might have seen that I countenanced your objection.

    They aren’t like each other. That isn’t the point. The point is – that the average Australian wonders why the rules should be different, especially considering every time one of these “witihin the rules” affairs blows up it’s HIS money that has paid for the jaunts.

    These things may be within the rules – why, then, are the rules so?

  7. Denise

    Hear hear Judith. Simple. Let us decide what should be within the rules. Not ever going to happen.

    Australia’s egalitarianism has been destroyed by this new aristocracy that thinks Canberra should be bloody
    Versailles. Not only do these big spenders hollow out tax revenues, they also make everything more expensive for us proles. When last could the average working man treat his family to a meal above fish and chips or fast food court drek?

    This is not going to go away this time nor should it. The people should wrest the cheque book out of their hands. Who is going to be allowed to do it?

    Man, these people have a high ticket on themselves. Fifty billion for Christopher Pyne? I think not

  8. miltonf

    One of these things is not like the other!
    What happens in private business is in no way related to what happens in govt.

    I thought one of the arguments for high salaries for politicians was to make politics more attractive than working in business.

    Excellent article Judith. Thanks for you great work.

  9. miltonf

    *Thanks for your great work

  10. PoliticoNT

    I’m pretty sure there was an article by Roger Boyes in The Oz 3-4 weeks ago which took a grim view on the indulgences of various Western diplomatic corps, and their origins. Have searched the Oz’s database but no luck. (Dot?) Worth a read.

    I’ve had various friends/colleagues in the APS benefit from the largess of o/s ‘postings.’ It’s extraordinary how quickly the SJW-blabbermouth-ex-graduate-set adapt to having yellow & brown servants at their beck and call, and how equally quickly they begin to treat said servants as second class citizens.

    It might interest ADF personnel that the going tax free cheque pay-off for a 90-120 day stay in a dusty tent for Defence civilian types furiously typing out pointless missives on a departmental laptop behind the wire in our Al-Muthanna compound was around $60k. Nice work if you can jag it.

  11. H B Bear

    Good to see Eddie Obeid’s skiing maaaate Tony Burqa didn’t miss an opportunity.

  12. PoliticoNT

    I’m sure Des can come up with some examples.

  13. alexnoaholdmate

    When your average Australian finds it now costs him an absolute fortune to take his family to the movies, and that the yearly holiday needs to be postponed; when the average Australian finds him pay buying less and less of the things his family needs, let alone small luxuries like a trip to the pictures and maybe to Movie World –

    – Then it’s perfectly reasonable for the average Australian to ask himself why politicians are allowed to claim unnecessary jaunts on the taxpayer’s dollar when clearly there are other alternatives, and in a manner that he, Mr Average Australian, would not be able to claim from his own employer.

    It is perfectly reasonable for the average Australian to ponder whether the rules that allow such things are truly reflective of what the voters want and expect, and why he and others like him don’t really get a say in determining the rules themselves.

    Nobody doubts that all this stuff is within the rules – again, that’s the problem.

  14. miltonf

    Didn’t Menzies say words to the effect ‘be generous with your own money and be mean with OPM’.

  15. sabena

    Here is a thought-all politicians expenses can only be refunded when approved by an individual act of parliament for that politician for the year-so we can have the Julie Bishop Refund of Expenses Bill followed,if passed,by the Act of the same name.
    Incidentally the extrawork involved in all of this would jam up proposed legislation for years which is good in my view since most legislation takes us backwards.

  16. Jim

    My experience working as a contractor overseas for DFAT is that they won’t pay for travel time (which is often up to 2 days), and in many locations the living allowance doesn’t even cover the cost of even a basic hotel.

    And then I run into DFAT staff that stay in the fancy hotels, have drivers, observe the contractors working (why is this needed when we are paid in arrears on outputs anyway?), have no local context/insight, and add no value.

    DFAT really must be a great place to work.

  17. miltonf

    Enjoyed that KP clip Beachside. The pollie was John Langmore I think.

  18. Beachside

    @ miltonf

    I reckon KP could have been Australia’s Trump.

  19. miltonf

    Maybe Beachside but Gina Rinehart is my nominee!

  20. Paul

    Some of these perks may not be unreasonable but it strongly depends on the location and timing. I have been on assignment in China in the early 2000’s for a private company. Car and driver were part of the package because, at the time and at the location I was residing, taxi transport was not safe. No seatbelts, poorly maintained cars (old Chinese made VW Santana anyone?), busy and poorly controlled tragic caused many car accidents. Several if my friends and colleagues without car & driver allowance ended up in car accidents with sometimes serious consequences.
    Off course, a car & driver allowance makes much less sense while on assignment in Amsterdam.
    Besides that, rules should be strict and well enforced, especially for those on allowances paid from our taxes.

  21. Mother Lode

    “But we aren’t employees of a private business. That’s a facile comparison. Everything I did was within the rules.”

    I would wager they would consider it a conflict of interest for private business to be allowed to write their own rules.

  22. WolfmanOz

    Slowly . . . DRAIN THE SWAMP !

  23. King Koala

    Joe,

    would your last name be Hockey by any chance?

  24. A Lurker

    I don’t think anyone would really mind if pollies and public servants got a little extra here and there if they were doing a first class job of governing and representing us.
    Trouble is they are doing a crap job and so, no, they shouldn’t get these extras.
    Give them a set and standard wage, and everything else should come out of their own pockets and at tax time the ATO will determine if their refund size.
    Everyone else has to do this so I don’t see why pollies and public servants get to write their own laws.

  25. Beachside

    For Joe, Hockey or not?

    #drainthePSswamp

  26. BrettW

    Generally agree with all the points made except the Uber comment. Would not want to take Uber in places like Pakistan or some African and Middle East countries even if they had it. Having a permanent driver is probably also a safety consideration in some countries.

    I recall seeing great expenses on Judges oversee “study” trips. Ley’s $21,000 for “ground” travel on a recent trip should be examined more closely as worked out at about $3,000 per day ! What about the trips politicians and partners take after get have already announced retiring (ie. Labour guy and his ABC partner).

    However special mention should always be given to Bourke whose female staffer (who became his wife) travelled first class with him (other staff did not) whilst I believe he was still married to first wife.

    Adding up all politicians, Judges, FWC, DFAT etc and we are talking very significant money. When has a PM ever set up an inquiry to refuse such expenditure. Even a 10% savings would be significant.

  27. Andrew

    However special mention should always be given to Bourke whose female staffer (who became his wife) travelled first class with him (other staff did not) whilst I believe he was still married to first wife.

    St Malcolm should announce a string of parliamentarians to be demoted for expense abuse – to be announced in order of egregiousness. It will have Burq first. Then every time some nobody screeches “XYZ should be fired” he can wave the list again. The SLF will never do it, and will be shown up as the outrageous hypocrite he is.

  28. BrettW

    Andrew,
    I am in full support on Malcolm being able to demote Labor front benchers !

  29. Ant

    On the (very) odd occasion I attend a mega-expensive restaurant I often wonder who the hell would order bottles of wine costing in excess of $200 – and even up to $4,300 I saw in one joint last year.

    I reckon it’s a-holes like those listed above – and no list should be complete without including Greg Combet’s taxpayer funded junket around Europe with his ABC girlfriend shortly before retired from politics.

    Ex ACTU head, man of the people, of course.

    She’s on $320k p/a, taxpayer funded, yet thought it proper to, along with Combet, leech $72k off of working Australians to fund their nice little first class romp (50 f—kin’ k in airfares?) so he could lend his brilliance at some BS “Climate Change” function.

    Many taxpayers wouldn’t earn close to that in a year – gross, yet they pay for it.

    Like expensive wines in fancy restaurants, I’ve never indulged because I can’t afford it – even though I suspect I often still pay for it one way or another.

  30. Beachside

    miltonf
    #2258353, posted on January 11, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Maybe Beachside but Gina Rinehart is my nominee!

    As KP is no more, Gina, most definitely.

  31. ar

    MPs or govt officials who are working their expenses to the limit are not the sort of person who is capable of cutting govt waste.

  32. JohnA

    Joe #2258233, posted on January 11, 2017, at 11:47 am

    Judith, I agree with you on the perks for public servants. They should be curtailed. However, MP’s and senators jobs do include an element of wining and dining and travel.

    Add something to their salaries, remove all expense allowances ie. scrap the whole system, and let them claim the deductions in their tax returns.

    That should slow them down a bit. All nice and private, too. 🙂

  33. Habib

    Every extravagance needs to be documented, published and widely distributed. Australians are untrinsically lazy, but if that diesn’t get the tumbrills rolling, nothing will. These people are our enemy.

  34. Habib

    Judith, I agree with you on the perks for public servants. They should be curtailed. However, MP’s and senators jobs do include an element of wining and dining and travel. They are they ones suffering from the gotcha mentality of the rest of us. Cut them some slack and let them get on with the business of govt.

    C’mon “Joe”, reveal yourself. Which safe seat do you occupy, or hold a staffers gig for? No-one could be that obviously obtuse without directly benefitting from the caper in question.

    BTW, the business of government now seems to be rogering their former support base, sans lube. I’m quite happy for the dirty bastards to be dustracted.

  35. Habib

    What happens in private business is in no way related to what happens in govt.

    Why? Are they such infantile moral vacuums they need to be held to a lower standard? And who legislates the standards for business? And who funds government?

    You’re starting to get rather shrill, old fruit. See the toys being taken away?

  36. .

    Your argument reduces to petty jealousy. I can’t have it, mummy make them stop!

    No no, that is what government Ministers and indigent mendicants say.

  37. Denise

    In the corporate world if your wining and dining doesn’t translate down the track into income for your
    company you’re considered a barnacle on the boat and cut loose.

    What have we got in return for the lavish lifestyles of these allegedly highly valuable mandarins. A soaring
    debt, primitive infrastructure except in Canberra and our suburbs flooded with feral malcontents living high
    at our expense.

    The states and councils have jumped onto the bandwagon too.

    They’ve all become as useful as a pagoda on a high rise and they must go. We can’t afford them.

    Time was the civil service was run by people who saw it as a vocation. My mother was a civil servant. With the emphasis on service.

    The hubris of these people is astonishing.

  38. Joe

    No no, that is what government Ministers and indigent mendicants say.

    Touche!

  39. Roger

    The reality is she, along with others, take every opportunity to mix freebies in their private lives with ”official” business so they can sting the taxpayer for the costs of travel to and from these events.

    The day of reckoning is nigh.

  40. candy

    Our politicians attend the polo and go on lovely holidays with family all paid for in travel allowances, and yet hound the most vulnerable for amounts outstanding from 2010 – a lot of the time, apparently 20%, an administrative problem and not even a debt.
    And then wait on the phone to get through to Centrelink for hours waiting to sort it out and stop the debt collectors.

    No wonder Centrelink have put on security to protect their staff. All whilst J.Bishop goes to the polo and includes it in work related expenses!

  41. BorisG

    Would an employee of a private business be allowed to do things this way? Of course not.

    The salary of top executives of a comparable corporation is order of magnitude higher and they can pay for this from their own pocket.

    When a Chevron employee is visiting Houston, they are not allowed to drive. They have to be driven around. I am talking almost entry level engineers.

    the rest is pure envy.

  42. BorisG

    Our politicians attend the polo

    who would want to attend this boring stuff for pleasure?

  43. David Brewer

    Sorry but I suspect a lot of the stuff about DFAT overseas staff conditions is crap, or at least overblown. From what I recall re DFAT colleagues’ deals (admittedly decades ago):

    Driver, cook and housekeeper are often included in the package – Mainly ambassadors, even then not necessarily full-time or dedicated staff, especially in first-world locations. When posted to tropical area, living in a large house suitable for entertaining, a housekeeper and cook are fairly necessary, and cheap. Costs are capped at pretty low levels. Would be a security risk to leave a house empty all day in many places.

    Car provided – Ambassadors only, others may get a lift to work in an embassy van. This is advisable too in many African, Latin American and some Asian postings where security is a real worry. Other than ambassadors, private travel is privately financed – staff pay for their own cars.

    Highly subsidised accommodation – Varies, but in any case overseas posted staff still pay a rental amount linked to Canberra rents, and some choose not to rent out their Canberra house, so have double housing costs. If Canberra house is rented out, land tax is payable (typically $5K+ p.a.) as well as rates, agents’ fees, maintenance etc. Any remaining profit taxable at marginal rate. House generally needs work on return.

    Top level health and dental expenses are all covered – Yes, and fully justified when working overseas in countries where medical and dental care is lousy except at top level, and no Medicare or private insurance is available

    Regular trips back to Australia for the whole family (business class, of course) – No, unless it’s a hardship posting staff do the whole 2 or 3 years at the duty station with no return home trip, unless at their own expense

    Boarding school fees depending on the age of children – Probably available but so what? Only used when no decent school in the country of assignment. Who wants to break up his/her own family?

    Representation allowance – typically chicken feed, take a few people out to lunch or throw a party or two to get to know some local contacts

    Free communications, including for private needs – Not sure, but how much does anyone pay in Australia these days for communications?

    As for “manipulating” the timing of children, who does not try to have children when it suits their situation and career? And if a man is posted overseas and his wife has to leave her job to accompany him, isn’t this an ideal time to have a child? What’s the matter with it? As for female officers having children when on posting, no doubt it happens sometimes, but how many are we talking about over, say, the last ten years?

    Sure my info may be out of date, but how about a reference to the actual rules for people on overseas postings so we can see exactly what the real situation is?

  44. PoliticoNT

    David Brewer – all colleagues who’ve had overseas postings have had multiple return trips to Australia (business class), take time-in-lieu for travel where it runs into weekends (even when the only option has been first class travel), have used postings to take advantage of taxpayer funding available when having children (understandable but I don’t remember working class mums doing shifts at Woolies et al having this option extended – so the issue is an unconscious sense of entitlement), often (although not always) enjoy effectively a tax free salary (especially short rotation postings), had the sale price of a car sold prior to departure ‘made up’ to market value, and always without exception have rented out their Australian home/apartment while away. Their are a vast number of ‘conditions’ available to government personnel travelling or being posted overseas that are simply taken as entirely normal rather than being at odds with broader community values.

    What grates is when the plain evidence is disputed as if we must be mad. Take FaHCSIA for instance. All staff (and I mean all) flying between Canberra and Darwin flew business class. This was as a result of the so-called intervention. Within the blink of an eye a new workplace agreement was struck that required all direct flights over 3 hours to be business class. The cost was enormous. Whatever you might have thought of the intervention, the expenditure of program funds was supposed to be on the ground in the NT, not flying public servants around. Yet I’ve heard senior departmental officers on radio deny this condition was ever in place.

    Overall though it’s not so much the tricky exploitation of the public purse that’s the issue – it’s the sheer scale of the numbers of people involved.

  45. Cynic of Ayr

    The whole point of all this is that Pollies, Public Servants – whatever – continue to use these perks without end or reduction, but at the same time, insist on extra taxes to pay for it.
    Lead by example, people. Few people will criticize higher taxes, if you reduce the spending on yourselves, and the result is an obvious improvement in Government funds.
    As for Wining and Dining being a “necessity”, what rot!
    Turnbull’s lavish dinner – paid for by Taxes – to feed Ali Waleed and others, was nothing but theft!

  46. Pat Warnock

    Polo anyone? Ordinary oinks stand aside and just pay.

  47. Des Deskperson

    I have relatives who are currently overseas-posted diplomats and David Brewer, above, is pretty much right about their current conditions and entitlements.

    As for travel, it is interesting to note this para from the current DFAT EA:

    “The standard for multi-sector official international travel is business class. For single sector official international travel with a flight time of less than two hours the class of travel will be economy class.”

    This means that for all practical purposes, my relatives have to travel economy on any offical business to and from Australia and so do many others posted in our immediate Pacific region. As for travel to Australia for leave, well of course they pay for that themselves.

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