The majority of Parliamentary entitlements are provided on a financial year basis, but the method by which Senators and Members receive them varies. Some entitlements, such as the provision of electorate offices, are provided by the Department of Finance, for use by the Senator or Member. Other entitlements, such as electorate allowance, are paid directly to Senators and Members and acquitted by them through the taxation system.
For some benefits there is no monetary or other limit prescribed. A Senator or Member may access these benefits without limit provided that conditions specified in relation to the entitlement are met. For example, there is no limit to the travel within Australia that may be undertaken by a Senator or Member on scheduled commercial services provided such travel is for Parliamentary, electorate or official business. Accountability for the use of such entitlements is ensured through separate certification processes.
Usually, however, there is a monetary cap or a specified number of times that the Senator or Member may access an entitlement. An example of the former is the charter transport entitlement, and of the latter, overnight stays within the electorate. Where there is a cap on an entitlement, the Senator or Member is required to certify their accounts for payment, and Ministerial and Parliamentary Services checks that the entitlement limit has not been reached. In cases where the entitlement limit is exceeded, Ministerial and Parliamentary Services will take action to recover the expenditure as a debt due to the Commonwealth.
Where a benefit is limited to an annual amount, a person becoming a Senator or Member during the course of a financial year is allocated the entitlement on a pro rata basis worked out by the formula:1
|Amount of whole benefit||X||Number of days in remainder of financial year|
Where an entitlement is calculated on the basis of the size of a Member’s electorate, only the land area of the electorate is included in the calculation, unless the Remuneration Tribunal determines otherwise.2
The entitlements of Senators and Members attract close media attention and, from time to time, criticism that they are overly generous and open to abuse. Entitlements use is frequently the subject of applications under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 received by the Department of Finance (Finance).
In a decision dated 16 August 2013 regarding an internal review decision of Finance to grant access to documents released under the FOI Act, the Australian Information Commissioner said:
Members of Parliament would be aware that their enjoyment of Parliamentary entitlements must comply with relevant rules or guidelines, and that this will be independently scrutinised. Members would, I am satisfied, have an expectation that this scrutiny may extend to public scrutiny, either in response to a request made under the FOI Act or through the proactive release of information by a government agency. In that event, it could reasonably be expected that information would be released as to whether the enjoyment of Parliamentary entitlements complied with government guidelines, including whether the enjoyment of those guidelines by a family member complied with the guidelines.3
The fact that there is some room for interpretation of the entitlements framework applicable to Federal parliamentarians means that it is important to take extra care to avoid creating grounds for criticism which, even if ill-founded, can damage a Senator or Member’s reputation.
Each Senator and Member is individually accountable for his or her use of entitlements as they are required to certify that use was within entitlement. The precise form of the certification required depends on the nature of the entitlement, but generally it includes certifying that the entitlement has been used for Parliamentary or electorate purposes. The certification process is an integral part of the accountability framework that, among other things, serves to protect Senators and Members from unwarranted criticism regarding their use of entitlements.
Another integral part of the accountability framework is the regular audits of parliamentary entitlements usage conducted by Finance.
In administering the various entitlements, Ministerial and Parliamentary Services frequently relies on the certification of the relevant Senator or Member that their use is within entitlement, as it is often not possible or desirable for Departmental officers to make the sort of independent inquiries that would be needed to make an objective assessment. This reliance on the certifications provided by Senators and Members was recognised in a report published by the Australian National Audit Office in December 2004, ‘Administration of Staff Employed Under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984’:
Finance necessarily relies heavily upon self-assessment by Parliamentarians for assurance that Commonwealth resources are only used within the terms of the relevant entitlement and/or employment condition.4
While Ministerial and Parliamentary Services can provide advice and assistance, it remains the responsibility of the Senator or Member to satisfy themselves that their use of their entitlements is lawful. It is also in the Senator or Member’s interest to satisfy themselves that the use is publicly defensible.
In deciding whether or not to access entitlements, Senators and Members should adopt a risk assessment approach by asking themselves the following questions:
|Is It Within The Rules?||How Would It Look? Is It Defensible?||What Is Overall Risk Assessment?|
|Clearly yes||Fully defensible||Low risk|
|Technically yes||Some difficulty in defending publicly||Medium risk|
|Arguably yes||May/would attract criticism||High risk|
|Clearly no||Would certainly attract criticism||Unsafe/unlawful|
Certification is an important process which ensures accountability by Senators and Members.
The following mechanisms are in place to provide appropriate certification:
|Printing and communications entitlement||Senators and Members are required to certify that printing and communications services have been accessed within entitlement.|
|Publications||Senators and Members are required to certify that publications have been purchased within entitlement.|
|Electorate allowance||Senators and Members must declare expenditure to the Australian Taxation Office annually, and be able to substantiate use, or a taxation liability will be incurred.|
|Travelling allowance||Claims are only paid on certification by Senators or Members of purpose of travel and, where appropriate, there is evidence of an overnight stay in commercial accommodation. Claims must be submitted within 60 days of travel.|
|Overseas delegations travel||If there have been any variations to an original itinerary for overseas delegation travel or a reimbursement is being made, Senators and Members are required to submit certification forms within 28 days of completion of travel.|
|Overseas study travel||Senators and Members are required to report in writing on the visit within 30 days of return.|
|Private vehicle allowance||Senators and Members are required to certify that private vehicle allowance claimed is for travel within entitlement.|
|Charter transport||Senators and Members are required to certify that travel was undertaken within and for the service of their electorate.|
|Electorate staff travel||Senators and Members (or authorised persons) are required to certify that travel (scheduled commercial services, Cabcharge, private vehicle allowance) was on official business and at his or her direction.|
Senators and Members should maintain accurate records of use of their entitlements to assist them in certifying that their use of entitlements has been in accordance with the relevant legislation, determinations, directions, procedural rules and guidelines.
Ministerial and Parliamentary Services provides each Senator and Member with a detailed monthly management report of expenditure on entitlements paid for by Ministerial and Parliamentary Services on his or her behalf during the previous month.
Senators and Members are encouraged to check the accuracy of each monthly management report as it is received and advise Ministerial and Parliamentary Services immediately of any entries requiring amendment as this will ensure entitlements are accounted for accurately.
Ministerial and Parliamentary Services also prepares a six-monthly report on Parliamentarians’ expenditure on entitlements paid for by the Department of Finance. This report is published on the Finance website . Prior to publishing, Senators and Members are requested to check the details in the report and certify that their use of entitlements has been in accordance with the use provisions legislated for each respective entitlement.
From time to time, requests under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 are made to the Department of Finance in relation to matters administered by Ministerial and Parliamentary Services, and in particular, for documents relating to an individual Senator or Member’s entitlements. Where the disclosure of personal information relating to an entitlement may be unreasonable, the decision maker formally consults with the relevant Senator or Member in writing to see if he or she has any concerns about the potential release of the information. The views of the Senator or Member are taken into account by the decision maker when determining whether to release the documents requested. However, the decision maker is not bound by the views of the Senator or Member.
Senators and Members who interact with Australian Public Service agencies are encouraged to make themselves familiar with the Australian Public Service Commission publication: Supporting Ministers, Upholding the Values.
When a general election or double dissolution is announced, Ministerial and Parliamentary Services will write to all Senators and Members advising them of their entitlements during the election period.
Senators and Members are reminded of the increased public and media interest in the use of entitlements by Parliamentarians in recent years. There may be additional focus during election periods.
The entitlements of Members who are not seeking re-election cease at the time of a dissolution of the House of Representatives.5
A Member who is a candidate for re-election as a Member of the House of Representatives at a general election will be entitled to salary and allowances until and including the day immediately preceding the polling day for that election.6 A candidate who is returned as a Member shall be paid salary and allowances from (and including) the polling day of their election.7
Senators for the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, whose terms run from one Senate polling day to the next, will be entitled to salary and allowances until and including the day immediately preceding the polling day, where they are a candidate for re-election.
Senators whose terms expire on 30 June following a general election and who:
- do not seek re-election; or
- seek re-election but are not returned
continue to be paid salary and allowances throughout the election period, and up to and including the expiry of their term on 30 June following that election.
Senators whose terms expire on 30 June following a general election who seek re-election and are returned, continue to be paid salary and allowances throughout the election period, and up to and including 30 June following the election.
Payment in relation to the term for which they have been re-elected begins from and including 1 July following the election.8
If the Senate is dissolved:
- the entitlements of Senators who are not seeking re-election cease at the time of dissolution;
- the entitlements of Senators who are seeking re-election continue until and including the day immediately preceding the polling day for that election; and
- a Senator elected at the first election after the dissolution is eligible for entitlements from (and including) the polling day for that election.9
Following the announcement of a general election or a double dissolution, the following principles generally apply:
- overseas study travel may not be commenced following the dissolution of the Parliament;
- Members seeking re-election may undertake electorate business but not Parliamentary business (there being no Parliament), so for example, travel by scheduled services for Parliamentary business could not be undertaken;
- it is recognised that in carrying out their electorate business Members may use their entitlements in support of their own re-election but not in support of another candidate;
- the electorate office is a Commonwealth leased office and signs promoting a Senator or Member’s own, or any other person’s candidacy, or that of their party, should not be displayed on the external walls, windows, fences, etc of the office;
- travel by scheduled services may normally be accessed for electorate or official business but not party business (other than meetings of a parliamentary political party, or of its executive, or of its committees, and the national conference of a Senator or Member’s political party). It would therefore follow that it would be difficult to rely on Parliamentary business as a justification for travel for Members after the House of Representatives has been dissolved and for Senators and Members following a double dissolution of the House of Representatives and the Senate; and
- the printing and communications entitlement cannot be used to print how-to-vote cards but may be used to print a limited number of postal vote applications for an election.10 For more information on the printing and communications entitlement, refer to section 3.9.
1 Section 6 of the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990.
2 Clause 1.5 of Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2012/04.
4 See Australian National Audit Office, Audit Report, ‘Administration of Staff Employed Under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984, December 2004.
5 Section 5A of the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1952.
6 Section 5A(2) of the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1952.
7 Section 5A(1) of the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1952.
8 Section 5(1)(a) of the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1952.
9 Section 5(1)(a) and 5(2) of the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1952.
10 Regulation 3AA(10) of the Parliamentary Entitlements Regulations 1997.