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Taxpayers lumped with another joyless expenses joyride

The biggest spender was former Northern Territory senator and indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion. His total bill of $100,000 included about $80,000 in charter flights with one trip of $24,000 coming the day after the campaign launch. There may be perfectly legitimate reasons why the departing representative of a vast and sparsely populated territory needed to rack up such a hefty bill. But it is galling to see someone who was leaving office being so profligate on the way out.

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What the latest information doesn’t count are the costs involved in sending Prime Minister Scott Morrison and then Labor leader Bill Shorten to all corners of the country, as they had VIP jets provided by the air force. That would not have come cheaply, given how integral the leaders were to the campaign. Indeed, the Coalition’s strategy was essentially to put on a one-man, daggy dad ScoMo show as a succession of senior figures announced their departures from public life. It would be easy, if a little uncharitable, to read the latest expenses report as a series of outgoing MPs indulging in one last charter flight for the road before settling into a post-parliamentary life with a healthy pension.

For all the transparency the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority offers, it doesn’t do us much good three months after the election has been run and won. Neither the Coalition nor Labor have shown any inclination to change their ways, and today’s report shows minor parties are also more than happy to lodge sizeable claims.

Different methods have been proposed over the years, but a greater reliance on party money over taxpayer dollars may not be the wisest solution given what we are learning at anti-corruption hearings. It would be useful, too, to have a federal equivalent to the Independent Commission Against Corruption to ensure everything is above board.

Perhaps the easiest answer is not changing what information becomes public, but when. In an age where workers taking taxis home on the company dime can have their receipts and routes immediately emailed to their bosses, there is no technological reason preventing politicians’ expenses from being posted online in real time. In the heat of a campaign, with all sides attempting to make political hay, there would be greater attention and accountability when it matters most.

And maybe, just maybe, those who appear to have no shame now might exercise a little caution.

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