Politicians' spending under the spotlight as first independent report is released

Independent Member for Kennedy Bob Katter spent the most of all MPs on car costs – $33,995 to drive around his sweeping North Queensland electorate  Photo: Mick Tsikas
Independent Member for Kennedy Bob Katter spent the most of all MPs on car costs – $33,995 to drive around his sweeping North Queensland electorate Photo: Mick Tsikas
Senator Cory Bernardi speaks to the media after informing the Senate he was leaving the Liberal Party at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 7 February 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares

Senator Cory Bernardi speaks to the media after informing the Senate he was leaving the Liberal Party at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 7 February 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares

It is the report that can end a parliamentary career - revealing how much federal MPs have splurged on travel, charter flights, office facilities and other work expenses.

The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority released its first report on Friday, aiming to ensure politicians are accountable for the way they spend millions in taxpayer dollars.

Announced after the travel scandal that claimed the scalp of former health minister Sussan Ley, the move was touted by the federal government as one of the biggest reforms to the expenses system in a generation.

The quarterly release covers the period from January 1 to March 31, 2017.

Ministers with overseas-focused portfolios predictably spent the most on overseas travel - Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Steve Ciobo forked out $342,037 while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spent $283,955. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spent $73,358, including travel to China, Peru, New Zealand, Indonesia, India and Papua New Guinea.

Nationals MP Mark Coulton, who holds the 393,000-square kilometre rural NSW seat of Parkes, topped expenditure on charter flights. He spent $24,715, including $21,272 for six flights between Canberra and his home base of Warialda, approved by the Special Minister of State Scott Ryan.

Mackellar MP Jason Falinksi, a government backbencher elected in 2016, was responsible for the biggest office administration bill, dropping a whopping $101,781 on office administration costs. This included more than $89,000 worth of printing and communications.

He was followed by Dunkley MP Chris Crewther, another government backbencher who shelled out $98,570, and Labor frontbencher Mark Butler who spent $97,462.

Treasurer Scott Morrison spent $124, 956 on office facilities, the largest spend of all members.

Ken Wyatt, who holds the West Australian seat of Hasluck, paid $50,370 for domestic travel, outspending all other MPs including Labor leader Bill Shorten who spent $40,550. Mr Wyatt's family travel costs of $10,067 was also the largest of all MPs.

Ms Ley's parliamentary expenses also reveal another travel declaration for $714 for a trip to the Gold Coast, this time dating back to October 13-14, 2013, when she was in the outer ministry.

Ms Ley was dumped from the cabinet in January after it emerged she had made a large number of trips to the Gold Coast, while a minister, at taxpayer's expense.

On one trip in 2015, she purchased a property for nearly $800,000, which she initially described as a "spur of the moment" decision.

Kennedy MP Bob Katter spent the most of all MPs on car costs - $33,995 to travel around his sweeping North Queensland electorate that takes in the coast between Cairns and Townsville, and most of Queensland's northern outback. Mr Katter's $5087 telecommunications bill was also the largest of all MPs.

Hamilton MP Dan Tehan's $15,084 spending on travel allowance was the largest outlay of all MPs, followed by Liberal senator James McGrath ($14,948) and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce ($14,752).

Acting Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority chief executive Leonie McGregor said the release of the first quarterly expenditure reports for both current and former parliamentarians was "an important first step towards more regular reporting of parliamentarians' expenditure, and we are working hard to upgrade our systems to further increase the frequency of future reports".

The Turnbull government will spend $80 million a year on its new parliamentary entitlements authority, and its chief executive will be paid a $340,000 salary package.

Expense reports will be published quarterly, rather than six monthly as occurred under the old system. Following a planned IT upgrade, reporting will increase to monthly.

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan said Australians expected parliamentarians to spend taxpayers' money "wisely, appropriately and accountably".

"More reporting means more opportunities for the public to understand how parliamentarians spend money in their offices and for travel purposes."

The government has also abolished the life gold pass for travel for all former parliamentarians, excluding former prime ministers and their partners.

This story Politicians' spending under the spotlight as first independent report is released first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.