I’ve never really understood why the Canberra Liberals don’t change their name. Surely, the Canberra Neoconservatives, the Canberra Monarchists, or just the Canberra Abbott Lovers would be more appropriate. But after briefly perusing The Non-executive members Eighth Assembly Travel Report, recently released by the ACT Legislative Assembly, I suddenly realised: when it comes to spending your own money on you the Canberra Liberals are conservative, but when they spend your money on themselves they do so in quantities which are best described as ‘liberal’.
I think we all appreciate that elected officials need to travel in order to discharge their duties. The question is: are they spending their entitlements for us, or for them?
At a cost of nearly $5,000, Liberal member Alistair Coe enjoyed nine days in the Cook Islands for meetings with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Resourcefully, Labor’s Chris Bourke managed the same trip for the same cost and brought his artist wife along for the ride.
At a cost of $8,000, big spender Liberal member Vicki Dunne visited the Cayman Islands for an executive committee meeting of the 62nd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, while Liberal member Steve Doszpot spent a stingy $13,000 at the Westminster seminar in God’s country, the United Kingdom. Liberal member Brendan Smyth made the miserly march to the group’s 50th conference in Johannesburg at a cost of $7,600.
Labor’s Mary Porter exhausted the entire $24,000 of her travel entitlement in one fell swoop to the cent on an excursion to Europe. The purpose of Porter’s trip was to investigate issues relating to voluntary euthanasia. Luckily, Porter’s husband Ian De Landelles, a highly paid ACT public servant, tagged along for the trot at a cost of $9,128. Still on Labor’s side of the camp, Andrew Barr played the twelfth man with economic rationalism by only billing the tax payer a back spin of $600 to see day-two of the Ashes.
Of course, the grand prize for frugality goes to a joint effort of Vicki Dunne, and the gifted and germane Giulia Jones (that’s gifted and germane with a ‘g’ for those who followed Jones’ inspired campaign tactic) 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.
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 that 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.
I sometimes wonder if the Canberra Liberals even want Government. They refuse to heed the advice of senior Liberals to soften their image; they have their wages and their perks; most have never tasted Government; their membership is besieged by a conservatism that is incompatible with the ACT; and their leader is less a leader than a follower whose image sits in the scope of Coe’s cocked rifle – a far more capable politician.