The best thing about the resignation of Parliamentary Speaker Bronwyn Bishop is not that it ends one of the worst, most vociferously partisan Speakerships in living memory – although that is certainly a good thing. The new Speaker will no doubt still be partisan, as is the Australian tradition, although it is unlikely there is anyone who would be anywhere near as bad. The most positive outcome of the drawn out saga is the accompanying announcement that there will be a comprehensive review of the whole system of MP entitlements. This very much needs to happen, and there needs to be a continuing focus on making sure this review is meaningful and genuine reform follows.
When this scandal first broke over two weeks ago, I called for a comprehensive review to tighten and clarify the rules on use of politicians’ entitlements. Whilst the attention has been on whether Bishop would eventually resign and become a scalp for the Opposition, the myriad examples of questionable use of entitlements showed clearly that the existing rules are nowhere near clear enough, which is what makes them so open to abuse.
Determining what can be claimed as a ‘Parliamentary related activity’ is not that different to deciding what can be claimed as a work related expense for an income tax return. Whilst a ‘work related expense’ is not going to be 100% clear in every circumstance, there is none the less a much clearer set of rules and rulings which can be drawn on, as well as advice which can be sought.
The media attention on this matter is going to move on very quickly now that the immediate target of public outrage has resigned. But the momentum for reform in this area should be maintained. Parliamentarians need to continue to follow the issue and maintain a public push for meaningful change. It is very much in the public interest (and very much in the interest of politicians for the matter) that this happens.