04 April 2014
End of the age of entitlements: but...
Wherever I lay my hat that's my home
In 1996 John Howard became the first Prime Minister to make Kirribilli House in Sydney his prime residence. Over the next 12 years, this decision cost the taxpayers $18.4 million in flights between Canberra and Sydney.
According to the Department of Defence's Schedule of Special Purpose Flights for the second half of 2002, Howard ordered 43 flights between Sydney and Canberra. Ten of those flights flew empty between Canberra and Sydney. Each flight cost $7500.
The RAAF's No. 34 Squadron operated the VIP fleet of five aircraft, which, in those days, cost $60 million a year to run. The lease on the current RAAF fleet of two Boeing 737 business jets and three smaller Challenger 604 aircraft cost $600 million and will expire this year when Tony Abbott intends to opt for bigger and better planes.
Last week, a 'reluctant' Tony Abbott became the second Prime Minister to opt for living in Kirribilli House. He said he would prefer to stay in his home in Forestville but Skynews suggested there were security concerns.
To accommodate Mr Howard's family, renovations were done at Kirribilli House. Two sets of stairs were installed and a bathroom was refitted at a cost of $185,000. In their third year of residence a new dining room table and 20 chairs were ordered, a cost of $82,000. A door required widening to get the table inside. Tony has said he has no plans for expensive alterations and I think Margie is a very different woman from Janette so hopefully we won't have to shell out even more for that. I wonder if they will move into the Lodge after its expensive alterations.
In May 2007, it was reported that John Howard's department had spent almost $110,000 on alcohol for The Lodge and Kirribilli House in the previous four years with over $30,000 spent in the first 4 months of 2007. It was an election year after all, and the schmoozing bill was bound to escalate.
He was accused of using Kirribilli House for Liberal party fundraisers, something he claimed was not a breach of propriety as the Liberal Party were picking up the tab. It was the taxpayer however who picked up the tab for lavish Christmas and New Year's Eve parties for 'a cross-section of Sydney society'.
Tony used Kirribilli House for a similar function when he held a soiree to thank people like Piers Ackerman, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Miranda Devine for their contribution to journalism (cough).
Mr Abbott said "when you take on a particular job, a particular residence goes with it and you do have to go with that particular flow." Well normally that would be the Lodge but it is currently undergoing repair works. That is why the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet signed a 12-month lease on a house in August, during the caretaker period.
Mr Abbott, for reasons known only to himself, refused to move into this house which will cost taxpayers $3000 a week for 12 months unless they can negotiate to terminate the lease, something they had been unsuccessful in achieving so far according to an ABC article from late November last year.
I wonder if Tony Abbott has considered what this decision will cost we taxpayers. Aside from maintaining several residences, the flights to and from Canberra, often empty one way, add up to a lot of money. Tony's decision this week to hold a Cabinet meeting in Perth, even though they were all in Canberra together a few days earlier, shows he doesn't really care about the cost of flights or accommodation. Why would he, he never sees the bill.
Perhaps Margie and Bridget wanted to stay in Sydney. If that was their choice then they should do as so many other families do when one partner has to travel for work, meet up when and where your schedules allow. That is the price you pay for the employment decisions you make. There are generous family travel allowances to facilitate this.
I presume that by making Sydney his principal place of residence, Abbott is entitled to claim $268 per night travel allowance when he is in Canberra among the many other entitlements that politicians receive. Their travel bill is astronomical. One would have thought that in these days of teleconferencing and e-communication we could cut this bill by a huge amount. There would be less photos (a side bonus) and it would be far more productive, saving time and money.
As I think of people on the dole being forced to accept jobs that are more than 90 minutes from their home and wonder about the cost, both financial and social, that they will have to pay, I will be checking with interest how much this government is spending on Parliamentarian's entitlements and on the Lodge, Kirribilli House, the empty rented mansion, and wherever it is that Tony actually stays when he goes to Canberra. In my opinion it would be far cheaper and more productive if our Prime Minister lived in Canberra. What would be even more productive would be if he lived in Tristan de Cunha.