Auditor to probe expense claims
THE nation's peak auditor may move soon to declare time on the loose use of taxpayer-funded entitlements by members of federal parliament.
Auditor-General Ian McPhee is considering a thorough examination of reforms introduced by the Department of Finance and Deregulation after a 2010 report that criticised the lack of accountability for members' expenditure.
Similar criticism was first raised in a 2001-02 report.
In answer to a series of questions put by the Sunshine Coast Daily, Mr McPhee said the audit would be considered as part of the Australian National Audit Office's schedule of work for the 2012-13 financial year.
If adopted it would include members' entitlements paid through the Department of Finance and potentially other departments.
The Department of the House of Representatives has refused to release details of expenses paid to the Member for Fisher, Peter Slipper (pictured) , during the first half of 2011 when he was Deputy Speaker.
The information was sought after Mr Slipper in January released copies of a Department of Finance report into members' entitlements comparing his expenditure favourably with other MPs.
Mr Slipper consistently has refused to say whether the Finance report represented the total of expenses he claimed from all sources for that period.
Mr McPhee has been frustrated for some time at the failure of the Department of Finance's to improve accountability.
National Audit Report No. 3 (2009-10) found an absence of a consistent approach for specifying the purpose for which an entitlement may be used.
And it found that where purposes were specified the meaning of key terms such as "parliamentary", "electorate" and "party business" had not been articulated.
As a consequence the purpose for which entitlements could be put remained open to what Mr McPhee has previously described as "considerable interpretation".
Absence of the definitions left the Department of Finance with potentially no basis on which to undertake post-payment checks of some entitlements.
The Sunshine Coast Daily has, on several occasions, called for such checks to be made of Mr Slipper's extraordinary expenses after he refused to go through his diary and explain their purpose. He has only ever stated they were for "parliamentary" or "electoral" business.
The Australian National Audit Office first sought a "comprehensive review of the entitlement framework" by the Department Finance and Deregulation following the release of its 2001-02 Audit Report No.5.
Mr McPhee said the review was sought to "strike a better balance between assisting Parliamentarians and accountability for the public funds spent".
At the time Mr Slipper was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Finance.