Transcript of interview, ABC News Radio – Bronwyn Bishop
MARIUS BENSON: Pat Conroy, you are the Chairman of the Waste Watch Committee. The Prime Minister has announced a root and branch review of the entitlements available to Ministers and Members of Parliament. Do you believe there is waste there now?
PAT CONROY, CHAIR, WASTE WATCH COMMITTEE: Oh look, I think there are instances of MPs incorrectly claiming allowances, Now, I think a bigger issue is the lack of opportunity to obtain authoritative advice. The Department of Finance can’t really do that, effectively, so a review to establish the best system of providing advice to MPs and looking at entitlements is, I think, a good thing.
BENSON: There is a public view that they’re all in the trough and they’re all after as much as they can possibly get. Is that a justified view?
CONROY: Oh, not at all. The vast majority of MPs do absolutely the right thing and they look after taxpayers’ dollars and they’re not in it for themselves and they’re doing the right thing. So, I think that view can be overblown and it’s exaggerated when things like the Bishop affair occur because those things drive that public perception and that’s one of the many unfortunate things about Mrs Bishop’s actions, because it demeans all politicians.
BENSON: But Bronwyn Bishop has said she was acting within entitlements. She’s conceded that it’s not in accord with public expectations, but within entitlements. Is she right?
CONROY: There are very real questions about whether it was within entitlements and that’s why I’ve been urging the Federal Police to continue their investigation to establish whether they were within entitlements because if they weren’t there’s a possible breach of the Criminal Code.
BENSON: This Finance Department report seems to have been going on for weeks. Do you know when that report might be made public?
CONROY: No, they haven’t contacted me or talked to me at all. I’ve written to the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Michael Thawley, asking for it to be referred to another Department given Jane Halton’s public statements which effectively prejudge the case. I think her statements, that this whole affair was tainted with sexism and that this wouldn’t have occurred if there was a male speaker, are clearly wrong given that Mrs Bishop has resigned and taint the Finance Department’s investigation. So, I think the investigation needs to be quickly concluded but ideally the Federal Police and another Department need to take over.
BENSON: Is it taking too long?
CONROY: I’m not sure about that, there seems to be other matters that keep getting added to it. But I think a quick ruling should be relatively easy, about whether chartering a helicopter to attend a party fundraiser is within entitlements. That’s the original complaint, and surely that’s just a simple review to establish whether attending a party fundraiser can constitute official business of the Speaker.
BENSON: The Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has spoken in defence of Bronwyn Bishop and he’s also made the point, start throwing rocks and there’ll be nobody left in Parliament, that if you exchange claims and counter-claims like this you will simply demean each other.
CONROY: Oh look I’ve been very clear, and all my colleagues have been, that mistakes are made on both sides of politics. No side is pure, people make genuine mistakes on both sides of politics and they should be given the opportunity to pay that money back. But the real issue here was, and still continues given the fact that Tony Abbott said she did nothing wrong, was the outrageous behaviour of Mrs Bishop; the use of taxpayers’ money to attend fundraisers, the level of indulgence, and the incredible situation we had yesterday that Mr Abbott announced that Mrs Bishop was resigning but wouldn’t
say that she’d done the wrong thing. Well, if she was resigning surely she’d done something? And that was the ridiculous situation the Prime Minister got himself into. Clearly she’d done something wrong and clearly she had to resign to try and resolve the issue.
BENSON: On the question of waste the entitlements themselves take up something like half a billion dollars a year, do you believe substantial savings might be made?
CONROY: Oh look, I think that we can look at the entitlements, but most MP’s do the right thing. Most MP’s do need those resources to do their job effectively. It’s about getting clearer definitions of what is official business. It’s about providing more help to MP’s to establish what’s within entitlement and what’s not, because most MP’s do a good job representing their community and are trying to do the right thing.
BENSON: Pat Conroy, thank you very much.
CONROY: Thanks Marius.