Retired politicians are fighting to keep their gravy plane airborne, arguing axing their lifetime gold travel pass is unconstitutional.
The Association of Former Members of the Parliament of Australia claims it is “unconscionable” and “symbolic tokenism” for the Abbott Government to strip them of their taxpayer-funded travel perks as part of its Budget savings drive.
“The association submits few would quibble with the view that the government’s retrospective abolition of the Life Gold Pass is symbolic tokenism offered to make a “tough” Budget more palatable and has no intrinsic connection to merit,” the association said in submission to a Senate inquiry examining the proposed changes.
“Parliamentarians’ entitlements should not be the subject of political whim and expediency.”
The submission has disappeared from the Parliamentary website after The West Australian revealed its contents but read the submission here.
The plea by retired politicians – some whom left public life more than 30 years – to keep their travel entitlements coincides with the Government coming under fire for a 1.5 per cent rise for Defence personnel.
The former MPs and senators are threatening to launch a High Court challenge against the Government’s plan to retrospectively scrap the gold pass, arguing it is unconstitutional because it amounts to an acquisition of property without compensation on just terms.
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They claimed the estimated $1 million a year in savings from dumping the scheme would be outweighed by compensation that would have to be paid to passholders if the Government was found liable.
They said the scheme – which is only open to MPs and Senators elected before 2012 - would eventually cost taxpayers nothing when existing passholders stopped travelling because they had died.
The association also said the gold pass was a benefit for long serving parliamentarians in lieu of successive governments “denying politically sensitive salary increases”.
“The truth is that previous political manipulations to keep salaries and entitlements of parliamentarians below those recommended by independent professional assessment have invariably been driven by incumbent Prime Ministers for perceived political advantage,” the submission said.
“Parliamentary salaries, entitlements and conditions of employment should not arbitrated by public opinion.”
Passholders and their spouses are currently entitled to 10 free return domestic flights a year, with the only restriction being the travel cannot be for commercial gain. Travel used to be unlimited but it was restricted to 25 return flights by the Howard Government and 10 under Julia Gillard.
To qualify for the lifetime gold pass, a backbencher needs to serve seven terms or 20 years in Parliament, with the eligibility period reduced for prime ministers and ministers. MPs and senators elected since 2012 cannot get the pass.
While some former MPs and senators have used their travel entitlement for philanthropic work, others such as millionaire former WA Liberal minister Geoff Prosser have been heavily criticised for charging taxpayers to fly to coastal holiday homes.
Joe Hockey announced on Budget night the pass would be scrapped altogether as former parliamentarians’ sacrifice for repairing the bottom line.