Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday Forum - Bronwyn Bishop and Parliamentary Entitlements

So Tony Smith has been elected as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives.He has said that he will not attend Liberal Party room meetings while Speaker.

Just in case you hadn't already worked it out, I am a bit of a traditionalist. The Westminster System depends to a degree on custom and tradition if it is to work effectively.

I had two problems with former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's use of travel allowances.  The first and most important one was the way in which the spend in going to that now infamous Liberal Party fundraiser fell outside the Speaker's traditional role. The second was the waste of money involved.

I have very mixed views over what are now called entitlements. I think that we have made things just too complicated for our parliamentarians. If you think about it, the suggestion that we need a special office just to advise MPs whether or not a specific spend is acceptable says it all. It indicates too many rules, too much complexity, too few basic principles.When we set a speed limit, we encourage people to drive to that limit. When we set spend limits and attach rules to govern that spend, then we encourage spend and the management of rules to support that spend.

As a general principle, you set a budget and then give people discretion within that budget, supported by simple principles to guide spend. You can then create simple audit and acquittal processes. If Bronwyn Bishop's travel was in her Speaker role, then that spend should have come from the Speaker's budget. If it was part of her role as MP, it should have come from that budget.

I don't think that it's rocket science.What do you think?  



Anonymous said...

One trouble with public budgets is that there's no reward for not spending up to them. You see this at local council level every year with the flurry of activity before year's end to spend what might have remained as unallocated. Defence spending seems sometimes guilty of this as well.

I can't see why whatever is spent is immediately available on the web for public scrutiny. Spend what you will, but accept the judgement of those you claim to represent.


Jim Belshaw said...

From observation, kvd, one of the difficulty with current budget approaches is that no one actually manages them. People have delegated authority to authorise spend with delegations attached to general levels, but no-one has real ownership.

Interested in your comment on local government. My impression was that councils are now so cash strapped that end FY spend was quite limited.

Making spend details available online would certainly aid transparency, although there are potential overhead costs. Interesting case of a meta data problem, however. Attention would immediately shift from spend to the purpose of spend. Journalists could track minister/mp activity, attempting to deduce why the person was travelling. I'm not sure that such short term micro analysis is a good thing.

Evan said...

It seems, and I haven't followed this closely, that it is mostly the travel (rather than other kinds of) entitlements that are the problem.

It gets tricky I think because politics is a job that is very much a lifestyle.

Maybe those with experience managing business travel have some good options.

Jim Belshaw said...

Travel does seem to be a key issue. Politics is also a lifestyle with multiple parts. I don't think that business travel has much to tell us beyond pointing to the difficulties and differences. Business doesn't have to put up with the gold fish bowl!

Scott Hastings said...

Judging by today's Question Time, Smith is going to be little different to Bishop in the direction of rulings. Possibly less inclined to hit the eject button though.

Jim Belshaw said...

Both would be good, Scott!