Taxpayer dollars and helicopters

So Bronwyn Bishop believes hiring a helicopter to travel from Melbourne to Geelong (a road trip of around an hour) is a justified use of $5,000 of taxpayer – that’s my and your – money.  The need for the speed to get to Geelong was for a Liberal Party fundraiser.  In reality, the $5,000 is chickenfeed.  You see, Bishop (the elder) has been applying for a new job as President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union based in Geneva and had to spend $88,084 of taxpayer money traveling to ‘submit the job application’ – on top of her $341,000 annual salary.

But wait, there’s more . . .

It seems that Bill Shorten was shaken but not stirred by his appearance at the Royal Commission into Union activities last week.  While Shorten didn’t look all that happy at times, and the Commissioner reminding him to answer the question isn’t a good look, so far the only ‘crime’ that has been identified is that Shorten didn’t completely and correctly fill in a declaration to the Australian Electoral Commission regarding donations to his 2007 election fundraising.

While Andrew Bolt and his loyal commenters claim Shorten is completely ruined as a result, Barrie Cassidy on the ABC’s The Drum website claims that Abbott has a history of non-disclosure himself

The Prime Minister has an impressive list, including failure to disclose a new mortgage on his family home and repaying almost $10,000 that he charged taxpayers for travel to promote his book.

‘He said – she said’ claims don’t really prove anything and ‘everyone’s doing it’ may be accurate.  However those claims don’t gel with the general public’s expectation that politicians actually comply with the regulations that attempt to ensure the political system is fair, transparent and above board.

Ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard has also testified in front of the same Royal Commission and seems to have been cleared.  The mud however does stick.  Spreading doubt by association with activities the general public would consider to be unsavoury or lacking the highest ethics will affect public opinion.  So far, Abbott’s Royal Commission hasn’t proven much if any criminality, but it has made the implication Shorten and Gillard are disreputable despite no crime being uncovered - just because they attended a hearing.  A similar process was undertaken on Ex-Prime minister Rudd with the ‘enquiry’ into home insulation.  By the time of the commencement of that enquiry, those responsible for the actions that killed installers had been found guilty according to state based Occupational Health and Safety legislation, which is where it should have ended.

Those with a long memory have probably worked out by now that an ‘enquiry’ into the unions is not an ‘original idea’.  In a case of not asking the question until you know the answer, Prime Minister Fraser commissioned Frank Costigan to enquire into the ‘Painters and Dockers’ Union some 35 years ago.  Unfortunately for Fraser, Commissioner Costigan discovered a lot more than just some actions in a rogue union.  Mungo MacCallum describes how the plan to ‘tear into a rogue union and by association the Labor Partyfell apart with Costigan uncovered

vast amounts of corporate rorting by some of the Liberals' most prominent supporters. Dozens of dodgy companies were outed as serial tax avoiders, beneficiaries of what became known as bottom of the harbour schemes whereby assets were stripped ruthlessly to provide instant tax-free profits.

You and I as taxpayers pay for Government enquiries.  So how much has the current Royal Commission into Union Activities cost?  The answer is $61million in taxpayer funds.  Yes – that’s right it is costing us as taxpayers $61 million so far for Abbott to besmirch the reputation of Shorten and Gillard – and presumably increase Abbott’s chances of re-election next time around.

So according to Peter Lewis, writing on the ABC’s The Drum website, is this the best use of $61million of your and my money – recalling the ‘debt and deficit’ disaster that was coming to get us all in 2014?

In context, $61 million is significantly more than either major party spent on advertising during the 2013 federal election.

It's the amount the Abbott Government has cut in foreign aid to Pacific nations, notwithstanding the payments to Nauru and PNG to house unwanted asylum seekers.

And $61 million is also the amount the Federal Government tipped in (along with the states) to host the Asian Cup earlier this year.

But what, I hear you ask, has the $61 million committed to the Trade Union Royal Commission delivered the Australian taxpayer?

On one hand, it has shown that in industries like construction where workers still die on the job, the union bargains tough in a tough environment and sometimes crosses the line of polite behaviour. One of the major outrages has involved a union allegedly crossing that line to pursue an employer who had been refusing to pay its members' superannuation.

It has also uncovered the shocking fact that trade unions have lent funds to the political party it established to promote the interests of its members.

And in recent days it has shown that the Opposition Leader comes from the non-militant wing of the Labor movement, where the culture of cooperation and accommodation with employers goes all the way back to the Cold War.

Make no mistake, the isolated examples of alleged corruption of union officials are a betrayal of their movement. They would also be matters that could have just as easily been dealt with by the criminal law.

It is probably also worth noting that $61 million pales into insignificance when compared to the money Australia spends housing asylum seekers and refugees in allegedly sub-human conditions offshore (allowing Abbott to claim another political ‘win’).  Australia spent $1.1billion in the first 10 months of the 2014/5 financial year.  UNHCR (the organisation who is supposed to manage the flow of refugees) will spend an estimated $US157million in South East Asia during 2015.

While Abbott’s government members seem to find no problem in spending money to shore up their position, there seems to be less urgency in spending money to ensure that you and I have a reasonable lifestyle.  So far this year, Abbott has refused to assist the funding of light rail on the Gold Coast, additional rail capacity in Brisbane and the East West Rail link in Melbourne.  While they are all public transport projects, they will move more people at less environmental cost than new roads.  He is also attempting to ban the funding of wind farm and other ‘alternate’ energy projects which are close to equalling or beating traditional coal power stations on any economic or environmental comparison.  Clearly the environment we live in, the world we leave to our descendants or the care of our fellow human beings is less important than the longevity of Abbott’s political career.

What do you think?

P.S. And Ms Bishop - if you ever have to do the same trip again here are some cheaper options!