MPs are now allowed to hire helicopters

An entrant in the Sydney Mardi Gras parade 2016. Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Hiring a helicopter will be allowed, when their use can be justified, under new rules for Federal MP expenses.

A formal review of expense policy, sparked by controversy over former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s use of a chartered helicopter to attend a Liberal Party function, has found that the rules on travel for parliamentarians are so complex as to be almost unworkable.

The key change is a shift of emphasis from “entitlements” to more business-like “work expenses” for purely job-related spending by parliamentarians.

The federal government today accepted the recommendations of the review, established by then prime minister Tony Abbott in August, and has started work on implementation.

“Chartered aircraft, including helicopters, while not generally an appropriate mode of travel for parliamentarians in metropolitan areas, may be required at times, especially in large, rural or remote electorates or in disaster zones, where there is no viable scheduled alternative,” says the report of the review.

The review recognises that employers meet the reasonable expenses of work travel. While parliamentarians are not employees in a legal sense, the review argues the same principles should apply.

“They must, on the other hand, have confidence that work-related travel expenses represent value for money and are incurred in good faith and for a proper purpose,” the report says.

However, the organic nature of expenses policy over many decades has meant it has grown to be confusing, incomplete, contradictory and immensely difficult to follow and administer.

“The travel provisions are so complex and conflicting as to be almost unworkable for parliamentarians,” the review says.

The review says expenses for MPs should be an efficient, effective and ethical use of public resources, taking into account the scale and scope of the business requirement, the relative costs and benefits of alternatives, and the whole-of-life costs of asset such as cars leased or purchased.

“Conformity with these principles should be a matter of individual judgment because erring parliamentarians will ultimately pay a price, possibly including losing office,” the review says.

“As indicated by public submissions and representations to the committee, a focus of concern is travel ‘inside entitlement’ but outside reasonable expectations and standards.

“This includes extravagant modes of travel, business class travel by children and inter-state family ‘holidays’ at exotic locations.

“Regardless of their legality, such claims are perceived to be inappropriate, and erode public confidence not only in individual parliamentarians but in the system itself.”