Tony Abbott, the age of entitlement is over

I HAVE always advised people not to embellish a story — or make one up when there isn’t one.

So, if you’ve done wrong, put your hand up, admit your guilt, cop the punishment and move on.

Some people adopt the opposite stance and feign ignorance, or hope it will all go away, or get someone to generate some positive spin on it, perhaps refuse to answer any questions on the matter or utter the famous, and oft-quoted line, “I don’t remember”.

Tony Abbott should have put his hand up and said he claimed expenses on the public purse for his recent trip to Melbourne to take part in a Liberal Party fund-raiser because he had legitimised the claim by attending a charity event, as the rules allow him to do.

Or deny it completely if it wasn’t true.

As far as I am concerned, the Prime Minister of Australia should enjoy unlimited travel entitlements — except where it involves non-public duties.

If public business is going to impact on his non-public life, he should be able to claim expenses to lessen the impact.

For example, if he is going to attend a charity event and then he finds out there is a Liberal Party fund-raiser the night before, I don’t see there is anything wrong with organising his arrangements so he can attend and claim the expenses.

But if he did it the other way around, he has some questions to answer.

If that was the situation, it was not good enough to say it was within the rules.

If the federal government is going to lecture people about ending the age of entitlement, the most senior members of it must set an example by being scrupulously careful when it comes to claiming entitlements.

And that applies to all members of Parliament, whatever their persuasion.

Everybody was jumping up and down about what a terrible thing Peter Slipper did with his travel entitlements but, I’m sorry, things like claiming entitlements to go to a friend’s wedding, for example, are morally wrong, even if legal.

I used to think it was fine for politicians to attend sporting fixtures and get wined and dined by their hosts, especially if they occasionally had to make a small presentation or speech.

But I’ve changed my mind on that one.

An organisation that wants a senior politician to attend a sporting fixture is looking to curry favour or do a bit of lobbying or gain some benefit — even if it is only the sporting body’s administration wanting the pollie to present a trophy or make a speech, to improve their profile.

So they should pay for it; why should the rest of us subsidise something that is of direct benefit to that organisation?

I reckon there’s no chance a federal minister would attend an Albury Wodonga Steamers rugby club fixture, if asked.

Of course, there is an opportunity here for some corrupt behaviour to come into play.

But if the politician plays straight down the line and ensures all the paperwork is in order, I can’t see the problem.

And it should be strict liability; politicians should not be able to blame incompetent staff.

It is often said we should pay politicians more money, because if you pay peanuts you get monkeys and you don’t want monkeys running the country.

I accept some people take a considerable drop in income to become a member of Parliament.

But it is supposed to be about wanting to make a difference and represent other Australians.

And you have to ask: if some of these people were not politicians or party hacks, would they be earning as much as they do now or be able to set themselves up with as generous superannuation and pension benefits?

Basically, it comes down to politicians who want respect earning that respect — and appearing to stretch the rules when it comes to entitlements is not the way to go about it.