GiftsTravel and hospitality

Corruption starts with a half price hamburger

Open Politics is launching a campaign to stop federal MPs and senators accepting gifts, free travel and hospitality from private groups and foreign governments. Join us by asking your local MP to make an election commitment to decline benefits in the next term of parliament.

Sean Johnson

Contact details for your local MP

Federal parliamentarians are paid a lot. They start on a base salary of $211,250 and get a loading depending on their position in the parliament or executive, with the Prime Minister on $549,250 and the Opposition Leader $390,820.

On those salaries you would think politicians didn't need fringe benefits. But many happily accept gifts, sponsored travel and hospitality from companies, foreign governments, industry associations, and other lobby groups seeking to interfere in the political process.

As we've detailed below this includes overseas trips, Qantas Chairmans Lounge, first and business class upgrades, tickets to major sports events and live shows, food, and alcohol. Their partners and children often receive freebies too.

While it's possible all this largesse has had no impact on any government decisions, it leaves parliamentarians indebted to vested interests and increases the risk of misconduct and corruption.

Even low value benefits are a risk. To borrow from the 1983 ABC mini-series Scales of Justice, corruption starts at low levels of compromise such as a half price hamburger.

At a minimum, accepting benefits creates a public perception of a conflict of interest and corrodes public trust in our democratic system.

Open Politics believes there needs to be a ban on politicians accepting benefits from private interests. The only exceptions should be benefits of a nominal value - e.g. pens, calendars, coffee mugs - and the usual hospitality and minor thank you gifts provided by businesses when a parliamentarian does a site visit.

This week we emailed all 225 parliamentarians to ask whether they will support a ban and give a personal commitment to refrain from accepting benefits in the meantime. We realise there is little prospect of a ban being adopted in the near future, but if a few MPs and senators make a commitment it will start to un-normalise the practice.

If you would like to help, email your local MP and ask them to make an election commitment to not accept any gifts, free or subsidised travel, and hospitality above a nominal value in the next term of parliament.

To find out who your local MP is, and their contact details, enter your postcode on the Parliament of Australia website.

Tell your MP you need a reply before the election and be sure to include your full name, phone number and residential address as MPs prioritise emails from constituents.

We encourage you to spread the word by sharing this article on social media and with your family and friends. And if you get a response from your MP please let us know.

We hope this reform, together with changes to donation laws and the establishment of a tough federal ICAC, will go some way to cleaning up the mess that is Australian politics.

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