In the Paper's words, "Jacqui Lambie blows the lid on some of the swifties she’s come across while running with the political class in Canberra". Come on mate, why wouldn't you want to give that a read?
Originally published Hobart Mercury September 13/10/2019
Here’s a massive rort every politician in Canberra knows about. You buy a house in Canberra in your partner’s name. You stay there whenever Parliament sits. You get your nearly $300 a night for staying in Australia’s capital, tax-free, and you don’t have to show receipts for that.
More than 60 pollies do it, and it costs the Australian taxpayer over a million bucks a year. And no politician talks about it, because nobody wants the gravy train to run off the rails.
When was the last time your boss paid you $300 a night to stay in your own home?
If the public wrote the rules, that rule would be gone. The fact it’s there just shows what I think people out in the real world know in their gut is the case. There’s one rule for politicians, another rule for everyone else.
The reason our donation laws are the weakest in the Western world is because our politicians don’t want them changed. They like not having to tell you who’s paying for dinner and the Penfolds Grange.
We don’t have a federal anti-corruption commission because both the major parties don’t want one.
They could pass one tomorrow if they wanted to bring one to a vote, but they won’t, because they don’t.
It’s the same reason we don’t have any enforceable rules regulating the problem of ex-ministers selling their services as lobbyists for the private sector before the ink has even dried on their latest ministerial decision. There is a revolving door between the lobbied and the lobbyist.
Our politicians treat public service like a paid internship until they can get something cushy in the private sector where they work half the time for twice as much.
Donations are a part of that problem. And not just the donations you hear about. Don’t forget that spending $5000 to have microwaved chicken and vegies with the PM doesn’t count as a donation under our electoral laws. Legally it’s just a case of overpaying for a meal — and if that happens to be an overpayment that benefits a political party, that’s just a lucky break for them. That’s a hell of a tip.
What’s more we don’t find out who’s donating to our political parties for more than a year after they donate. And most donations never get revealed anyway.
Only donations over $14,000 get disclosed. If you wanted to, you could always donate $13,900 every day for the next three years and nobody would ever know you did it.
You think this isn’t happening? I’m not the first person to talk about this loophole.
Meanwhile, Christopher Pyne uses his time as a minister — while on the clock, being paid by you — to interview for a job as a lobbyist for when he retires.
Would your boss let you go to a job interview while they’re paying you to do the job you’re actually employed to do?
Who would get away with that? Politicians, that’s who!
He’s not the first to make a switch to the private sector, they’re at it on both sides of politics.
Andrew Robb went from a minister negotiating trade deals for Australia with China to a lobbyist negotiating business deals for China with Australia.
Stephen Conroy went from being the minister regulating gambling to the head of a gambling lobby group.
Julie Bishop goes from being the minister overseeing our aid budget to the board of one of its biggest beneficiaries.
I haven’t got enough words in this article to spell out all the examples.
But take my word for it — there’s heaps. And the worst thing? Not one of these examples breaches the “rules”.
Every one of them was apparently totally fine. But I have a problem with this setup.
If you’re a minister thinking about the rules to apply to a certain industry, and you’ve got a lobbyist in your office telling you they can line you up a job in that industry when you retire, that has a chance to impact on how you do your duty as a minister.
If you’ve got one eye on the door, you don’t do your job. And if your future employer asks for a favour, the public can only hope you tell them where to stick it.
One of the benefits of being in the balance of power is that sometimes the government needs you to get something through. I’m working on three different Bills as we speak. One on cleaning up donations once and for all, one on a national anti-corruption watchdog, and the other for bringing some teeth to our lobbying laws.
And the next time they need my vote, I’ll tell them there’s a price. Pick one Bill to back, one problem to solve, and we’ll see about the others next time you need me.
So here’s my strategy, and my message to the Government. I don’t want you writing your own rules. I’m going to keep knocking in your door with a vote and a solution — and when you need one, you’re going to get both.
Jacqui Lambie is an independent senator for Tasmania.