PM’s Department tries to hide frontbencher’s bid for extra perks

The Prime Minister's Department has lost a two-year fight to conceal a minister's bid for thousands of dollars in extra pollie-perks, including charter flights and boat rides.

Key points:

  • Most MPs and senators' submissions released in inquiry, Dr Gillespie's was kept hidden
  • PM's Department said the documents couldn't be revealed because they contained "sensitive" personal information
  • Documents reveal Dr Gillespie wanted extra charter and travel allowance, an additional office and employee

Former speaker Bronwyn Bishop's taxpayer-funded helicopter ride sparked an inquiry into politicians' entitlements.

Most MPs and senators' submissions were publicly released, but bureaucrats decided to hide Nationals MP David Gillespie's proposal.

After a lengthy freedom of information (FOI) battle, the ABC can reveal Dr Gillespie argued politicians in seats like his should annually be given:

  • Nearly $15,000 extra "charter allowance" for charter flights, hire cars, boat rides or taxis
  • 14 days more travel allowance for overnight stays within the electorate
  • An additional office
  • One more full-time employee

Dr Gillespie is the member for Lyne on the New South Wales mid-north coast.

He argued the boost would help meet "the significant logistical challenges that confront all rural MPs in meeting the needs and expectations of their constituents".

"If the additional costs are $10 million, it is a small price to pay to ensure fairness within our democracy is delivered," he wrote in the October 2015 submission.

Dr Gillespie wanted extra expenses for all electorates 10,000 square kilometres or larger.

The Assistant Health Minister's seat is about 16,000 square kilometres in size, and includes towns of Taree and Wauchope.

If implemented today, 24 Coalition MPs would benefit, along with six Labor members and two independents.

Electorates 100,000 square kilometres or larger would have received an even bigger windfall under the blueprint.

But the Government has only partly adopted one of his ideas by funding an extra office in Australia's seven biggest electorates — a group of seats that does not include Lyne.

FOI watchdog rejects excuses from PM's Department

The wish list could only be revealed after the Australian Information Commissioner told the Prime Minister's Department to stop hiding it.

Public servants have tried to shield the Government MP from scrutiny since March 2016, when they claimed handing over 10 politicians' submissions would be too much work.

They argued the task would "substantially and unreasonably divert the resources" of the department, which employs nearly 2,300 staff.

The agency then stonewalled a scaled-back FOI request in June 2016, arguing the submission (below) could not be released because it contained "sensitive" personal information.

"It would involve a substantial incursion into the privacy of the relevant individuals," senior official Peter Rush wrote.

When the FOI watchdog threw out this argument, scrutiny-shy bureaucrats came up with three new excuses.

But the Information Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim rejected these too.

"There is nothing to suggest that the information … is confidential, or that the third party wished for the submission to be received in confidence," Mr Pilgrim said in the decision.

Dr Gillespie did not ask for the submission to be kept secret when submitting it.

And he did not respond to the department when it later asked whether he objected to it being released.

"The department notes the Commissioner's reasons in his decision about the confidentiality of the submission," a spokeswoman said.

"The department has no further comment."

External Link: FOI 2016 Document relating to David Gillespie

Original Article

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