Tuesday, March 13, 2012

MP’s not impressed by repressed imprest

Premier Colin Barnett likes details. There is no doubt he wants to let his bean-counting days go and spend his last years in public office pondering the big issues, but it appears that our lonely leopard just can’t change his spots.

After watching him prematurely cut the heads off a number of people such as former Treasurer Troy Buswell and most recently, one of his best performing personal advisers, for what turned out to be very minor transgressions, we know that Colin Barnett learnt something from his sulky time on the backbenches of the Birney/Omodei/Buswell Oppositions – corruption sinks governments. And he certainly does not want his government to go the same way as that of his processor.

As an informed tax-payer I say, “yep, he’s right. We shouldn’t tolerate corruption in government.” But I hasten to add, “let’s not overreact”. Unfortunately for the Premier, that’s just what a number of his colleagues think he has done in his latest attempt to appear committed to eliminating any perception of misuse of public resources.

One of Mr Barnett’s subordinates called me recently to voice concern about the fact that the Premier has a new no-travel policy and how quickly this and his other no-bad-press memos are raising the ire of a growing number of Liberal Members. Apparently the Premier recently told the entire Liberal Parliamentary team that between now and the election, no one should be using their imprest accounts to fund any travel, even though they are fully entitled to do so.

Just for context, a Member’s Imprest account is credited with $24,534 at the beginning of a new Parliamentary term for the purpose of funding travel over the four years. While some ill-informed cynics consider these trips to be nothing more than junkets, in my experience they provide MP’s with very valuable opportunities to visit other States and Countries and both learn from them and act as an ambassador to us. Most MP’s who use this entitlement come back with new ideas, stronger international relationships and at the very least, a broader appreciation of how other people live and Western Australia’s place in a very big world.

I don’t know about you, but if these people are going to represent me and write our laws, I for one think $6,000 a year is a very small price to pay for them to get that broader understanding of life.

However, it is a fact that there are those in our community who vehemently disagree. They think it’s a rort and our elected representatives should sit at home with a beer and learn about the world via Foxtel – which, of course, they should pay for from their own pockets.

Anyway, enough context, back to the current issue:

While my deepthroat seemed to accept that the Premier is just trying to avoid feeding these fools with a plethora of “snouts in the trough” tabloid stories months before an election, the informant said the thing that has really irritated the voiceless sods in the Party room is that this comes on top of his latest decree to no longer allow unused imprest funds to be rolled over to a new term.

Apparently, there are a number of members who have done the right thing by not travelling extensively over the last few terms and in doing so, saved up close to $40,000 in their imprest account. Some of them were evidently hoping to fund a decent overseas study trip early next term if they were lucky enough to get re-elected for another 4 years. However, when the Premier stood up in Parliament during the final sitting days of 2010 and declared that unspent imprest credits would not be rolled over in the future, some of the backbenchers who had savings thought they might be able to squeeze in a trip during the winter break of 2012 before the election campaign really ramped up.

Alas, these plans have been dashed by the Premier’s newest strategy to minimise public disquiet, but he might not have foreseen the unrest his move is creating in his own backyard.

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