A review of parliamentary entitlements has recommended the creation of an “integrated online work expenses system” to aid accountability and compliance with the rules.
The review was set up in August 2015 after a string of scandals involving parliamentarians’ travel expenses, including helicopter trips and billing taxpayers to attend weddings of high-profile business leaders.
The committee in charge of the review has made 36 recommendations – all of which have been supported "in principle" by the Government.
A number of the recommendations take aim at the complexity of the present entitlements system, both in terms of the number of rules that apply and the mash of “heavily customised and bespoke applications” used to manage expense processing.
The review said the current systems in place “are ageing and do not meet the business needs of parliamentarians and their staff”.
Combined with “manual processes and workarounds”, they combined to form a “complicated web of patches and fixes which barely support service delivery and cripple administration”.
The review recommends – among other things – that the Department of Finance develop “a business case for a fit-for-purpose system that meets the needs of those who will use it and those who need to administer a more flexible expenses system”.
While it “understands” the Department of Finance is already developing a solution in the area, the review committee backed an “urgent and significant overhaul” of the current IT infrastructure that manages claims for entitlements.
“An integrated solution to support the administration of parliamentary expenses is long overdue,” the review committee said.
Better IT systems to track MPs expenses would mean more transparency around entitlements, the committee argued.
Although the Department of Finance currently compiles twice-yearly reports on parliamentarians’ work expenses and travel-related claims, the review committee wants data releases to be shifted to quarterly.
And once the department creates an integrated expense system, parliamentarians’ expenses will be available in monthly data dumps.
The committee said the increased frequency of public releases of expenses data – with or without a new IT system – would “compel parliamentarians to consider more carefully the consistency of their expenses with community expectations and to permit more accurate comparison with expenditure patterns across the parliamentary cohort.”
“[Monthly releases] require implementation of the integrated digital information technology system … and, pending that, reports should be published quarterly,” the committee said.
Finance Minister, Senator Matthias Cormann, said that the Government “supports all the recommendations in principle and will now commence work on implementation.”
“Implementation of a number of recommendations will involve further work by the Remuneration Tribunal, which the Government will ask the Tribunal to commence forthwith,” he said.