24 March 2016
by Stephanie Peatling
Federal election 2016: MPs caught short over campaign costs
Senator Nick Xenophon says rules need to be tightened to stop politicians campaigning for their own re-election at the taxpayer's expense.
Politicians should be unable to claim travel and associated costs on the public purse once the writs for an election have been issued, independent senator Nick Xenophon has said.
An eight-week official election campaign is on the cards if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is unable to persuade the Senate to pass the government's building and construction industry watchdog legislation in April.
Given that the phantom election campaign is already well under way, the taxpayer faces not only one of the longest election campaigns but also one of the most expensive.
MPs from around the chamber have been caught on the hop by the threat of a July 2 election day with some fearing they will run out of money to print posters, newsletters and other materials used to communicate with their constituents.
Politicians are each given a $100,000 printing allowance to cover the cost of communicating with constituents.
But the funding is allocated over a financial year. With the 2015/2016 financial year already three-quarters gone, some MPs are worried they will have to dip into their own pockets to cover the cost of reaching the voters in a campaign that could stretch from May until early July.
Parties only pick up the cost of election campaigns once the parties' official campaign launches have taken place.
Campaign launches have been taking place later and later in the life of a campaign.
In 2013, the Liberal Party waited until two weeks before election day to hold its campaign launch. The Labor Party launched its campaign on the Sunday before election day.
Senator Xenophon, a consistent critic of the generous and opaque system of politicians' entitlements, said the rules needs to be tightened to stop politicians campaigning for their own re-election at the taxpayer's expense.
"I think it does feel a lot like double dipping,"
Senator Xenophon told Fairfax Media on Wednesday.
"The line should be drawn on the day that the writs are issued."
The review of MPs' entitlements released on Wednesday recommended that "the budgets and conditions applying to 'workplace costs' namely, office facilities, office budgets – including incidentals such as postage, flags and photographic services – and printing and communication costs" should be set down in legislation.
But it rejected the suggestion that politicians should be prevented from using these entitlements to campaign for their own re-election.
The report found there was too much overlap between political and more general communication with constituents and that any such a rule would be too difficult to administer.
All of this comes on top of the estimated $1 million a day cost for recalling Parliament in April (although this could be offset if the scheduled May and June sitting periods do not happen because of an election).
The cost is incurred by the 3000 politicians and staffers who return to Canberra when Parliament is sitting. Travel, accommodation and other expenses are covered by the taxpayer.