26 May, 2015

Yes Mr Hockey, there is a problem with that

On this week’s Q and A, Treasurer Joe Hockey was asked by audience member Mark Travers:
There has been a lot of talk recently about double-dipping. As Treasurer, do you believe that politicians receiving an away-from-home allowance of $270 per night to stay in a house owned by their spouse is double-dipping?
Since the question was asked in the abstract, the treasurer answered in the abstract:
Well, no, because ultimately you have to pay for the rent or you have to pay for the hotel accommodation, whatever the case is. You are living away from home and employers pay that.
It took host Tony Jones to point out the fact that the questioner was obviously referring to the fact that, as reported in the Daily Telegraph last year, when staying Canberra, Mr Hockey actually claims $270 per night living away from home allowance to stay in a house that is mostly owned by his wife and possibly by his father.

When the point of the question was made unavoidably clear, Mr Hockey’s first response was to say he doesn’t think his father still owns it. Really, Joe? You think that’s the issue here, when it’s still majority owned by your wife? And if you want to make that the issue, how can you not be sure? Certainly with many rental arrangements, tenants never know who the owner is, but when one of the owners is your wife and the other may or may not be your father, how can you not be sure about that?

Jones again brought the treasurer around to the main point, asking if the more than $100,000 expenses that Hockey had claimed for living in the house had in fact gone into paying the mortgage. Mr Hockey’s response was “Well, Tony, I don't know. I pay rent.”

Let’s be fair here – there are plenty of married couples who keep their individual finances separate. Let’s just say that it challenges credulity that he doesn’t know where the money goes when his wife and possibly his father are his landlords.

So when Jones again asked for clarification that Mr Hockey pays rent to his wife, the response from the man who has declared an end to the age of entitlement was telling:
Well, hang on, well, is there a problem with that?

Since you ask Joe, yes, there’s a problem with that.

There’s a problem with that because you are claiming the full amount of $270 per night, which is about the going rate for a nice hotel room, not a family home. If you choose to rent a house rather than a hotel room, that’s your choice but if it’s your own bed and a place to keep your toothbrush that you’re interested in, there are some lovely apartments close to Parliament House for under $500 a week. If you’re being charged the maximum nightly rate, then you’re being ripped off. Or someone is.

There’s a problem with that because you and your colleagues have recently come out against new parents calling them double-dippers and not avoiding the words “fraud” and “rort” when they were legally using the system as it was intended. This is relevant because your accommodation arrangements, while innocent in the abstract, look very much like double-dipping to the casual observer considering that you are paying rent – and it would seem like a lot of rent – to your wife. Do you charge her rent when she stays at your Sydney home?

There’s a problem with that because you are claiming the full amount when it is probably not costing you the full amount. And you are doing it at a time when your government is penalising part-pensioners who have saved the government money by having some superannuation, and your colleague Mr Morrison says to those who miss out, “Thank you for saving for your retirement.” I do not begrudge you a comfortable and familiar place to lay your head while working away from home, but if you passed the savings on to the taxpayers I would sincerely thank you.

There’s a problem with that because your government is always keen to make the moral argument against everyone from new parents using the law as it was intended, to those fleeing for their lives who don’t bother to call their nearest embassy to make sure all their paperwork is in order. Your arrangements are not illegal, in the same way that Google’s tax arrangements are not illegal. They’re not illegal because no-one making the law was ever devious enough to imagine it would be used this way. You obey the letter of the law but not the spirit.

There is a problem with that because politicians are also, God help us, role models. You tell us the age of entitlement is over but you do not lead by example. You are benefitting from travel allowance arrangements not because you need to, but because you can. In doing so, you are telling the rest of the country and especially the younger generation, that it’s okay to grab as much as you can get while the getting is good, and that’s a disgraceful example to set.

No-one is suggesting that you are not acting within the law and I may be wrong about some of the assumptions I have made. I certainly hope I am. And I know you are not the only one who sticks to the very letter of the law when it comes to travel and accommodation. But when you make the semantic argument that you are merely paying rent and you don’t know where the money goes after that, to the casual observer, it sounds disingenuous. It sounds particularly disingenuous when you lecture others about having to find savings and the end of entitlement. So yes, there is a problem with that.


  1. Doing some quick maths...

    IIRC, Joe said he was away a total of 185 nights last year during that exchange on QandA,

    At $270 per night that is $49,950 for the year, which equates to an equivalent weekly rent of approximately $960. Having a quick look online it appears he could get a 4-6 bedroom house for that amount.

    I think Joe may need to check his bullshit meter, it appears to be broken as claiming a full $270 per night and to pay rent to his wife for a property he stays in less than half the time seems to have a real stench about it.

    No wonder no politician wants to have a good look at removing negative gearing, they have their own hands in the honey pot.

    1. The government does like to talk about living within our means and comparing the national budget to a household budget.

      If the treasurer thinks this is a fair deal, it might perhaps call into question his professional judgement too.

  2. For some perspective, Hockey is claiming about the same amount per night via this accommodation allowance (over and above his usual parliamentary remuneration) as people on Newstart receive for a whole week to cover all necessities of life. I seem to recall that the Abbott Opposition had an awful lot to say about costs of living pressures before they came to office and yet they still refuse to consider the gross inadequacy of Newstart and other Centrelink payments, relative to the real world costs of subsisting. On principle, I reckon we should be quoting all parliamentary perks relative to Newstart.