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MPs banned from using travel allowance to court the media

Politics

When the pandemic led to restrictions on parliament last year, non-government MPs were frustrated and accused Labor of silencing them. The Remuneration Tribunal then made it clear they could not use their expenses for media travel.

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The Remuneration Tribunal has revealed that the Clerk of Parliament, Neil Laurie, last year sought a ruling on whether MPs could use their General Travel Allocation for media travel where no additional costs were to be incurred.

Parliamentary business was hugely disrupted by the pandemic, and the October 31 election had made some MPs anxious to highlight issues in – and to – their electorates. At the same time, senior members of the Labor government, particularly the Premier, were able to raise their profile, as daily social media livestreams dominated the airwaves.

According to the tribunal’s annual report, Laurie made the request for clarity on September 15, and on October 16 was told “members cannot cover travel expenses of the media from their General Travel Allocation under any circumstances”.

That was two weeks before the election, setting a clear expectation that the work of the media was unrelated to an MP’s parliamentary business.

Opposition frontbenchers can claim their portfolio-related travel on expenses, but the tribunal has also argued that it should be funded through the separate budget allocation given to the Office of the Opposition Leader.

The cost of that office to taxpayers rose to almost $4 million last financial year, but the Premier’s office cost twice as much to maintain, with overall ministerial office expenses for the Labor government hitting $45,193,449.

Palaszczuk blamed “higher charter costs and domestic travel due to increased travel for official purposes during the period of the election, as is the case every election year”.

Taxpayers fund the charter flights that carry members on the media around Queensland during an election campaign, following leaders from both major parties.

However, a significant portion of the increase in ministerial office expenses last year was due to added staffing expenses in the Premier’s office. It was revealed as politicians received a two per cent pay rise, again funded by taxpayers.

In June, the tribunal released a determination that politicians receive increases to their base and additional salary rates: 2 per cent on 1 September 2021, 2.25 per cent on 1 March 2022, and 2.5 per cent from 1 September 2022.

Palaszczuk had promised a freeze, in line with a public service pay freeze, but the latter was thawed by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, prompting the tribunal to act.

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