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‘No excuse’ for Bishop chopper expense errors

UNDER FIRE: Speaker of the House Bronwyn Bishop has repaid more than $5000 for the hire of a helicopter for a 100km journey to a Liberal Party fundraiser.
UNDER FIRE: Speaker of the House Bronwyn Bishop has repaid more than $5000 for the hire of a helicopter for a 100km journey to a Liberal Party fundraiser. MICK TSIKAS

A FORMER Coalition politician who spent 23 years in the Federal Parliament says there is no need to change guidelines around members' entitlements in the wake of the Bronwyn Bishop choppergate scandal.

Former Member for Fairfax Alex Somlyay said the entitlement guidelines were already very clear.

"You can't use them for party political purposes in any shape or form," Mr Somlyay said.

"It can't be clearer. If a member is in any doubt they can ring up the Department of Finance for a ruling."

Mr Somlyay said all parliamentarian expense claims were now subject to audit by the Auditor-General.

"If you do that (claim entitlements outside the guidelines), you're a fool," he said.

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has repaid more than $5000 for the hire of a helicopter for a 100km journey to a Liberal Party fundraiser.

She also paid a 25% penalty and brought scrutiny on the extent of claims she has made for overseas travel.

Mr Somlyay said the guidelines could not take in every circumstance.

"Trying to get around them is one thing," he said. "If you genuinely don't know, ring up."

He said the guidelines only allowed MPs to claim for travel and expenses relating to their party's annual conferences.

However University of the Sunshine Coast political lecturer Bronwyn Stevens thinks it is past time to review the guidelines.

Ms Stevens said problems had emerged early in the Abbott Government but other parties had also been involved. She said there had also been a number of scandals with Howard-era ministers, with five required to resign.

"It needs an independent audit and clear guidelines," Ms Stevens said.

"We don't have a truly independent Speaker (in Bronwyn Bishop). To hire a helicopter for a party function is really pushing it."

Ms Stevens said there was an issue with leadership, with Coalition Government ministers pushing the boundaries from the beginning of its term.

But while she believes the matter will be extremely damaging, Griffith University political scientists Dr Paul Williams is not as sure.

He said it was not surprising the Coalition was in damage control with people surprised by the defence that Ms Bishop's expenditure was within the rules.

"It's time to look at the guidelines again," Dr Williams said.

"It needs to be black and white. You can't use taxpayers' money for party political matters."

But he thinks that if the matter is isolated it will not blunt the damage done to Labor leader Bill Shorten by the Royal Commission into Union Corruption in the construction industry.

"Labor is technically in front (in the polls)," Dr Williams said.

"But the Coalition would sneak home if an election was held tomorrow."

Topics:  bronwyn bishop chopper travel expenses


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