Taxpayers will have forked out about $5 million in wages to 17 politicians who were never eligible to sit in Parliament after another five fell to dual citizenship on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, three Labor MPs and the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie quit the lower house to face byelections after the High Court disqualified Labor senator Katy Gallagher in a strict interpretation of the constitution.
But those four MPs will continue to receive taxpayer-funded flights and accommodation until they formally resign on Friday, a decision that infuriated the government.
The four resignations and the court’s ruling on Senator Gallagher take the money paid to ineligible politicians in the 45th Parliament to about $4.95 million, according to calculations by The New Daily.
While the government announced in Tuesday’s budget it would extend its “Robo-debt” welfare crackdown aimed at raking in $300 million in Centrelink debts, it is likely the government will waive the politicians’ debts, which also include parliamentary expenses and other allowances.
Attorney-General Christian Porter brushed off questions about whether those politicians should have to pay back the money.
Asked why their debts would be waived while someone found to have broken Centrelink rules would have to pay, Mr Porter replied:
Under federal law, politicians can apply to have their individual debts waived by the Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann.
It was also confirmed the three Labor MPs would not resign until Friday to finish off outstanding work with constituents.
This infuriated Leader of the House Christopher Pyne, who said the MPs should not be claiming parliamentary entitlements such as their flights home now they had admitted they were ineligible to serve in Parliament.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was forced to argue Labor had acted in “good faith” after declaring last year the party had superior candidate vetting processes to its political opponents.
He refused to apologise but said the byelections, while not planned, would be a referendum on the government’s decision to hand massive tax cuts to the big banks.
The government also refused on Wednesday to outline individual debts owed by politicians that had so far been found ineligible, citing privacy reasons.
But given politicians such as Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters served multiple terms, the total figure of wages paid to ineligible politicians would be far greater than $4.9 million.
The debts of Mr Joyce, Rod Culleton, Mr Ludlam, Ms Nash, Malcolm Roberts and Ms Waters were waived by Mathias Cormann in March, while Bob Day’s debts were forgiven last year. Former senators Mr Day and Mr Culleton were found ineligible, but not over citizenship.
The New Daily understands bureaucrats are currently calculating how much money is owed by former speaker Stephen Parry, Jacqui Lambie, former NXT senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Labor’s David Feeney.
The government says the debts will be considered on a “case-by-case” basis.
The debts belonging to Senator Gallagher, who sat in Parliament as a British citizen between 2015 and last year, will go through the same process.
The four MPs who resigned on Wednesday will not owe any money to the Commonwealth because they were never found to be ineligible by the High Court.
The 2018 budget confirmed on Tuesday that taxpayers had also paid $11.6 million in legal costs arising from the citizenship crisis.
In announcing his decision to waive the debts of six politicians in March, Senator Cormann said a departmental advisory committee had determined the parliamentarians had “performed their duties in good faith for a proper purpose”.
The committee found it was “difficult for individuals at the time of nomination to know that they were ineligible for nomination”.