Malcolm Turnbull stirred up controversy in Parliament yesterday when he announced that the Life Gold Pass will be cut, saying it will be effective immediately instead of over a phase-out period.
The move came as a surprise to the Coalition and has angered many members of parliament, particularly those nearing retirement, who are now unable to receive free business class travel. The perk will remain available to former prime ministers only, although millionaire Mr Turnbull says he will not use it.
The Life Gold Pass, which was established in 1918 to provide members of Parliament with taxpayer-subsidised rail travel, has since grown to be an extravagant entitlement, allowing MPs free business class travel post-retirement, with virtually no accountability.
Over time, the specifications for the entitlement have changed. During the Howard Government, the free travel perk was widened and the ‘severance traveller package’ was introduced to include every MP not eligible for the Life Gold Pass. MPs could use this perk for between six months and five years after they retired from Parliament. However, as The Australian reports, some former MPs were still receiving free travel up to 40 years post-retirement.
Now, this is all at an end. Mr Turnbull’s announcement follows the recent scandal involving former MP Sussan Ley. The then-Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, and Minister for Sport stepped down last month when it was revealed she had travelled to the Gold Coast 17 times between 2013 and 2016, costing the Australian taxpayer over $40,000.
The Prime Minster says this move is part of a reform of the parliamentary expenses system, which utilises recommendations from last year’s expenses review. The review, which began in 2015, after former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop was found to have used $5227 of taxpayer money to fund a helicopter charter to a party fundraiser, was left to simmer last year.
According to The Australian, the Life Gold Pass has cost taxpayers $17.2 million since 2001.
Read more at theaustralian.com.au
Finally, we see some positive change put in to effect.
In 2011, then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard took the first steps to axe the Life Gold Pass scheme by prohibiting it to new members and reducing the number of flights permitted. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s widely hated first 2014 Budget also moved along the process of curbing entitlements for retired MPs over a period of six years. Now, Prime Minister Turnbull is finishing what was started.
While many MPs have used the travel privilege over the years to help community groups and charities, others have treated it as a personal airline charter service. What began as a simple rail travel pass 100 years ago became an entitlement exploited by too many MPs.
Cutting the perk is a bold and surprisingly progressive move by the PM, especially given the immediacy of its execution. No doubt, it’s a move that will be well received by the Australian people. However, before we celebrate, let’s take a moment to consider the motive and context in which this announcement was made. Is it worth questioning the PM’s timing on this?
What do you think? Does the timing of this long-awaited policy change seem somewhat suspicious? Or do you think the PM simply made the right decision and closed the book on what had become a drawn out issue?
Below is the list of claims by current Life Gold Pass holders, effective 1 January to 30 June 2016:
Peter Slipper $12,620.23
Simon Crean $9827.61
Fran Bailey $6732.59
Michael Ronaldson $7494.10
Nicola Roxon $5013.09
David Hawker $4306.80
Bob McMullan $3901.13
Grant Chapman $2469.93 Family claim $376.87
Ron Boswell $2344.07
Bruce Scott $1201.48 Family claim $1201.48
Alex Somlyay $1597.52
Stephen Smitth $1561.64
Martin Ferguson $1299.38
Dick Adams $831.02
Alan Griffin $819.80
Helen Coonan $656.40
Laurie Ferguson $328.20