As the theme of abusing political privilege continues to permeate from side to side and state to state, let us focus the lens on the ACT.
With the departure of Australia’s fair-minded, unprejudiced, and graceful Speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop, Australian politicians of all stripes are holding hands, bunkering down, and bracing for a long night of long knives.
Bishop rose to the public fore in the nineties through orchestrating an onslaught of politically motivated witch hunts against public servants who, according to Bishop, were burdens on the public purse. For her long-toothed enemies, it was undoubtedly a sweet irony that her demise was the very echo of her creation.
For the rest of us, it was a relief to know that someone who so besmirched the people’s place had irrevocably, and rightfully, fallen.
It is fortuitous for Canberra’s MLAs that many of the current Assembly’s spending scandals came to the public’s attention about a year ago… and it seems that everyone has been on their best behaviour ever since.
Labor’s Mary Porter exhausted the entire $24,000 of her travel entitlement in one fell swoop on an excursion to Europe. The purpose of Porter’s trip was to investigate issues relating to voluntary euthanasia.
Porter’s husband Ian De Landelles, a highly paid ACT public servant, tagged along for the trot. Serendipitously, Porter’s expenditure of $14,871.77 and that of her husband totaled $9,128; a neat sum of $24,000 to the cent.
One of the greatest waste of public funds was undoubtedly a one-day trip to Sydney by the entire Liberal Opposition – Jeremy Hanson, Alistair Coe, Steve Doszpot, Vicki Dunne, Giulia Jones, Brendan Smyth, and Andrew Wall for ‘media training’, at a cost of $10,000.
Some chose to take their spouse, while others chose to bring along a few staff as well. Notwithstanding the fact that media training comes in handy only when the media pays attention to you, no self-respecting political figure should expect the public to pay for it.
Media training is the artless exercise of evading questions, repeating rehearsed lines, hiding the truth, and appearing to be someone you are not. It’s not rocket science – people just want politicians who are themselves. Why should we pay for media training for politicians?
Of course, the grand prize for frugality goes to a joint effort of Vicki Dunne and Giulia Jones for spending $35,000 on a trip to France, Sweden, and Germany. The study tour was designed to allow the pair to investigate laws which prohibit people from paying for sex. Both have penned a detailed report of their European tryst – worthy of a self-appointed gold star but unworthy of legislative consideration.
In my opinion, there was no purpose for this travel. There was no legislation relating to sex work before the Assembly. There was no enquiry or public debate that could have possibly warranted such a jaunt by non-ministerial staff.
Speaker Vicki Dunne defied the advice from the Assembly Clerk by allowing Giulia Jones’ senior adviser to travel with them – another unprecedented travel arrangement for a non-ministerial MLA.
Speaker Vicki Dunne also traveled with her husband on a trip to Malaysia in April notwithstanding the fact that taxpayer-funded spousal travel is no longer permitted for Canberra’s MLAs.
These are not the actions of a representative of the public whose primary purpose is to uphold the dignity of the ACT Legislative Assembly. These are the actions of the ACT Legislative Assembly’s very own Bronwyn Bishop… Speaker Vicki Dunne.