There may be an upside to the COVID-19 pandemic – at least for taxpayers.
The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority says it administered parliamentary travel expenses of $42.7 million in 2019/20, down from $59.8 million the previous year.
The authority attributes the change to MPs travelling less during the pandemic.
The figure was revealed in an auditor-general report into the authority’s handling of parliamentary expenses.
Reforms to the parliamentary entitlements system were enacted in 2017/18 – in the wake of the Bronwyn Bishop “choppergate” scandal – and designed to increase clarity for MPs, and transparency and accountability for taxpayers.
The audit found the authority’s work had been “largely effective”, especially in providing advice to MPs and processing travel claims.
However the assurance framework was “not informed by an assessment of compliance risk and visibility over relevant expenses administered by other entities”.
The authority identified $30,875 as being non-compliant with the rules in 2019/20, based on 95 non-compliant claims.
The audit found the claims related to domestic flight connections for international travel not related to parliamentary business, the use of self-drive vehicles or taxis, and the use of COMCAR within a parliamentarian’s own electorate.
The audit also reported the authority was awaiting information from the Australian Federal Police about the outcome of an investigation into the travel allowance claims of an unnamed MP’s staff member.
The authority is able to make referrals to the AFP when fraud or criminal activity is suspected.
The audit made four recommendations, including improving its risk management and performance measures, and the authority agreed to them all.
It was also revealed as of November last year there were two debts outstanding: a former parliamentarian, who had been declared bankrupt, had a debt of $1534.80.
The authority was following it up with the trustee.
As well, a former parliamentarian owed $501.68 from a total of $2833.68 identified as non-compliant.
When the authority was established, the Finance Department transferred 61 outstanding debtors totalling $108,287.