For government backbencher and “Father of the Parliament” senator Ian Macdonald, taking away 10 free return business class flights a year for retired Australian politicians is the beginning of the end of democracy.
With his boss, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, axing the perk which costs taxpayers around $1.5 million annually, Macdonald, a former Howard government minister, let rip in Parliament overnight against what he saw as a tide of rising popularism against “those hated, money-grabbing, self-serving politicians” comparable with Nazi Germany, Stalin and the equally bloodthirsty Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
The “gold pass”, as it’s known, is a century-old perk for retired MPs that over the last 15 years has been wound back until the scheme was killed off completely by the Senate last night.
But after 27 years in politics, 71-year-old Macdonald was making a last stand not for himself, he said, but “on behalf of a small group of elderly retired politicians who have no voice in this debate”.
“Why is it of no personal benefit to me? Well firstly, it applies only to retired politicians and I have no intention retiring,” Macdonald said. “I’ll probably be carried out of here in a pine box.”
But the senator had a serve for “shock jocks and the lazy journalists” who “churn out the populist lines because it is easy to do so”.
“It always gets an energetic response from a small section of the community — a small section who complain a lot, but never offer themselves for election to parliament because they have never had the energy, the dedication and the commitment to do the hard yards and get elected in the first place, and to then do that work for something less than $50 an hour for all hours of the day and night, often at least six days a week, often for up to 48 weeks a year, in a job where there is no privacy, no down time,” he said.
Citing previous prime ministers who’d made cuts to the gold pass scheme, from John Howard to Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, Macdonald warned that trying to pander to public sentiment didn’t save their political skins.
“If you govern by what is popular instead of what is right, I fear for the future of this country,” he said.
“If we are to follow the populist approach, why bother with at all?
“Perhaps Hitler and Stalin or Idi Amin had the right idea: do not bother about a parliament and you do not have to bother about those pesky parliamentarians at all.”
Killing off the gold pass is part of a broader package of reforms on what politicians bill the taxpayer in the wake of Bronwyn Bishop’s “choppergate” and Turnbull’s former health minister, Sussan Ley, resigning after she bought an $800,000 investment property during a taxpayer-funded trip to Queensland.
The Senate passed legislation for an Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority and Turnbull has promised monthly reporting of what MPs spend.