The Albanese Government has ordered an information blackout on the publication of all parliamentarians travel which will not be cleared until July 2024 in the wake of an IT debacle dubbed “disaster-gate.”
As a result, it now looks certain that the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who once promised that “the Australian people deserve accountability and transparency, not secrecy” will preside over a two year freeze on the publication of MPs entitlements spending from 2022 to 2024.
Separately, the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has personally overseen a blackout on the publication of ministers’ VIP travel on RAAF jets including destinations and passenger manifests, at the same time he ran up a $3.6 million bill for flights.
The complete breakdown in transparency requirements follows the introduction of an upgrade to a new computer IT system for parliamentary expenses that was meant to usher in a new era of transparency and faster publication of MPs expenses.
Instead, the Albanese Government has not published up to date details of MPs travel since the new system was introduced on the 4th of July, 2022.
This is despite legislation that expressly requires the government to publish the material.
The delays to the publication of the MPs entitlements was initially flagged by Special Minister of State Don Farrell late last year with an announcement that the publication would be paused while the problems were resolved.
He promised that the new IT system, which was experiencing multiple failures, would be back on track by the end of 2023.
But news.com.au has now confirmed that the backlog of information about every MPs taxpayer-funded expenditure will not be cleared until the end of the financial year, that is July 2024.
“This should never have occurred,” Senator Farrell told news.com.au.
“From opposition, Labor raised multiple concerns over successive years with PEMS, including repeated questioning at Senate Estimates since the project’s commencement.
“In November 2022, I wrote to the Auditor-General requesting a full audit of the project, including its implementation under the former Coalition government and high cost.
“As I committed last year, reporting will return by the end of 2023, with the release of the July-September 2022 quarter for both certification and reporting.
“I look forward to the Auditor General’s findings, so we can ensure such mismanagement cannot happen again.”
The widely loathed system which has infuriated MPs has also experienced a cost blowout from $38 million to $69 million.
Labor Senator Tony Sheldon has previously lashed the Department of Finance for delivering a system that was “over budget and over time” despite being created in the wake of Bronwyn Bishop’s Choppergate controversy to improve accountability.
“Twice over budget, a project that came out of Choppergate to try to rectify these things, and now we’ve got Disastergate,” Senator Sheldon said.
“There’s the decision to put in a new system in place to deal with sorts of those sorts of claims that were made [around Choppergate] and all the controversy about that particular claim. We’ve spent $66 million in expenses so far for a system that doesn’t work.”
The Independent Parliamentarians Expenses Authority has now confirmed the normal schedule of publications will not resume until July 2024.
“IPEA takes its role in providing data to the Australian Public very seriously and we are committed to resuming this function once the functionality is completed and available,’’ a spokeswoman for IPEA said.
“The Department of Finance is developing the parliamentarian’s ‘Expenditure Reports’ functionality as part of the Parliamentary Expenses Management System (PEMS),.
“Once complete, IPEA will commence the 2022-2023 quarterly reporting process.”
Some material will be published in December 2023, but only in “batches” with the normal publication schedule remaining offline for longer.
“This will commence with the July to September 2022 quarter with a view to publishing all expenditure reports, periodically, through to mid-2024,’’ a spokeswoman for IPEA said.
“The regular cycle will then continue.
“IPEA continues our behind-the-scenes assurance activities and parliamentarians continue to have access to their individual expenditure details. As part of the public reporting process, parliamentarians are asked to certify that the expenses listed in their report were used for the dominant purpose of conducting their parliamentary business.”
Another problem in the botched reporting processes for MPs travel is that the Defence Department that administers VIP RAAF plan flights for senior ministers has not been providing IPEA with passenger manifest lists.
That matter is now being resolved according to the Defence Department.
News.com.au revealed this week that the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles was personally consulted over the decision to stop publishing where politicians are flying on VIP flights during the same period he personally ran up a $3.6 million bill.
New documents obtained under freedom of information laws revealed that the Australian Federal Police conducted the security review at the request of the government and in consultation with Mr Marles.
As a result, the passenger manifest and destination of VIP flights are now being censored for the first time in half a century.
Greens Senator David Shoebridge said the new documents raised fresh questions.
“The Defence Minister, as one of the biggest customers of these expensive VIP flights, had a direct interest in this and has clearly benefited from the change in the rules,” he said.
“That interest absolutely should have been made clear when his office was pushing to keep the details of its boss’s VIP travel secret.”
Separately, the Albanese government has also stopped publishing details of MPs’ domestic travel, cabcharge use and travel allowances for the last year, citing an IT malfunction.
News.com.au revealed on Monday that Mr Marles had spent over $3 million but was refusing to say where he took the VIP flights or who was on board, citing security concerns.
“All travel conducted by the Deputy Prime Minister either in his role as Defence Minister or as Acting Prime Minister is in accordance with the relevant guidelines and security procedures,” a spokeswoman said.