Friday, 27 January 2017

Recently, the travel arrangements of Health Minister Sussan Ley made the news. She had made many government-funded trips to the Gold Coast, some of which had included private investment activities. Ms Ley resigned as Minister, but stressed that she had broken no rules.

Malcom Turnbull has now announced that the Federal Government will set up an independent agency to oversee the expenses of parliamentarians1. The agency will be modelled on one in the UK.

It’s not easy to write rules that cover our parliamentarians’ public, party and private roles, especially if we’re to pay for their families to travel with them sometimes. But plainly the current rules don’t do the job: almost everyone caught in expense ‘scandals’ has claimed that they have ‘broken no rules’ and ‘done nothing wrong’. The former may have been true, but the latter more dubious, especially if judged by something like Victoria Police’s SELF test2.

So, will the new independent agency curb the improper use of public funds or will parliamentarians continue to diminish our trust?

According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, the level of trust in global institutions, including our political leaders, is at an all-time low. Richard Edelman summarises: “From an exalted position as savior in the wake of the financial crisis, government is viewed today as incompetent, corrupt and divided, the least trusted global institution at 41 percent."3

Personal and collective ethical values are crucial when it comes to issues like this. A lot needs to change before we think less cynically about our politicians.

Ms Ley’s conduct was aired in the media and led to her resignation. It also harmed the reputation of the government and the trustworthiness of all politicians. It shouldn’t be necessary, but an independent agency may be a step in the right direction.

KordaMentha’s investigations consistently show that poor culture and controls increase the risk of fraud. Remedying these can avoid financial and personal grief.