Coulton understands frustration but calls for caution over entitlements

Doubts: Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley has stood down while being investigated for entitlement claims. Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Doubts: Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley has stood down while being investigated for entitlement claims. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Parkes MP Mark Coulton said he understands the frustration of the community as questions are raised about politicians’ entitlements but he has also called for caution on the issue.

Mr Coulton didn’t want to see the public become more disillusioned with their elected officials and said politicians had to be mindful they were using taxpayer’s money.

Entitlements have become a major talking point after it was revealed Health Minister Sussan Ley purchased an $800,000 house on the Gold Coast while on a taxpayer-funded trip. She has since stood down.

It has also since emerged Foreign Minister Julie Bishop claimed expenses of $2716 for a polo trip in January 2016 and other ministers’ claims are also coming into doubt.

Mr Coulton said politicians needed to have a legitimate reason to claim expenses and had an obligation to ensure any personal affairs done while on trips didn’t cost taxpayers.

The Parkes MP said he didn’t support expense claims for personal trips and welcomed the government’s commitment to adopt 36 recommendations to increase public transparency and accountability around entitlements in early 2017.

However suggestions that there were widespread misuse of entitlements angered Mr Coulton.

“I was at an event in Broken Hill having a conversation and someone said ‘but everyone does it’ but that sort of comment upsets me,” he said.

“I think we have a very good political system here in Australia and I don’t like suggestions that all politicians are doing the wrong thing.”

A lot of the costs listed as entitlements for politicians were necessary expenses of servicing an electorate, Mr Coulton said.

“There are more expectations on senior ministers and even opposition ministers to travel to events so their travel claims are generally higher. Some of those functions may not strictly be meetings but they are still important,” he said.

One Charles Sturt University academic said it was important the Prime Minister take decisive action over any proven misuse of entitlements.

Associate Professor of political science in the CSU School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dominic O'Sullivan said Ms Ley should be “dismissed immediately if she has erred, or be robustly defended by the Prime Minister and allowed to stay if she has not.”

Professor O’Sullivan said it was important to recognise that democracy was expensive.

"Ministers need to be accessible to the public and need to be available to interest groups in their portfolio areas all over the country. If there is any limit on members and senators being accessible to the public, at public expense, parliamentary democracy itself becomes ineffective,” he said.