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    Ruth Armstrong

    Sussan Ley seems confident she will be cleared and she may well be right. She might not have had to break any rules because maybe the rules are broken. And a bit opaque.

    This incident (yet another in the passing parade of expense scandals that have dogged both sides of politics) points to a fundamental problem that our Government needs to be brave enough to address: politicians’ financial conditions and entitlements appear to be out of step with community standards. If it turns into a witch hunt to destroy Ley (let’s face it, a woman in a position of power, therefore with a target on her back) it will be just another tawdry excursion and a wasted opportunity.

    Look at the Family Reunion entitlements as an example.

    http://www.maps.finance.gov.au/entitlements_handbooks/senators-and-members/Part_Four_Travel_-_4.9_Family_Reunion_Travel_within_Australia.asp

    Many Australians travel for work but how many companies or organisations pay business class fares for already well-paid employees to be joined by their spouses on trips? Surely politicians are paid well enough to fund these types of reunions themselves — much more economically.

    Sussan Ley’s initial response to the revelation of her travel and property purchase says a lot. Her lifestyle as a Government Minister is luxurious compared to the lives of the majority of Australians who are affected by decisions made in her portfolio, but she is so out of touch that she was initially unable to see how her activities would be perceived. And it has come at a time when the Government is seeking to curb spending in welfare and health, leading to debt notices, pay cuts and increased expenses for Australians at the lowest end of the family income scale.

    I have little appetite for the personal attacks on Ley. Who knows why and by whom thy were orchestrated? But I do think it is time for truly independent scrutiny of politician’s entitlements. Are they reasonable at a time when there are calls to cut spending? Are the rules too easy to bend? Has there been widespread misuse? Is our politicians’ access to such a lavish pool of entitlements inhibiting their ability to empathise with those of lesser means?

    Who knows, there might even be scope for a Centrelink-style “clawback”, with debt letters for those whose claims are flagged as questionable — with the onus of proof on the recipients, of course.

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