*UPDATE 23 Feb 2017*
Telmo Languiller has admitted he has been claiming a second home allowance, as suggested below, and is on the front page of today’s The Age. Read more.
If you think the Federal MPs’ allowances system is murky, take a look at those of the State Parliaments.
For months I’ve been trying to get clear information about the Victorian Parliament’s pay and expenses system, but have been hitting walls at every turn. Or rather having walls put up in front of me by people who don’t want me to find out how public money is being spent on MPs allowances.
The whole system is opaque and very time-consuming to research. Probably intentionally so. A while back I asked the Victorian Parliament for a copy of the Members’ Handbook, which (I believe) contains all the key information about MP allowances in one consolidated publication. I was knocked back though – told that this guide is not available to members of the public, only MPs. Wall.
I decided to put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to get some of the information I required about MPs’ allowances, but it turns out the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS), which runs the whole allowance system, is not subject to FOI rules anyway. Wall.
At the cost of $27.90 of my own hard-earned money, I sent a FOI request to the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPMC) instead. I asked for:
“a list of all Victorian State MPs who have claimed a parliamentary allowance for maintaining a second residence during the last financial year (2015/16)”.
The response from DPMC told me they don’t have the information and I should get in touch with DPS. Disappointed but not deterred with hitting another wall, I phoned DPS. They told me to put a request in writing to the Speaker of the House of Representatives (and Labor MP) Telmo Languiller. Languiller is an establishment MP with questions previously raised over his own expenses, but hey, he could agree to open up the system to scrutiny, right? (I have asked him now anyway!). Wall?
Second homes allowance under scrutiny
Following all of that, today I read an article by Josh Gordon in The Age, about how many Victorian State MPs (including my own) do not actually live in the constituency they represent.
One such MP mentioned in the article is the aforementioned Speaker, Telmo Languiller. Languiller represents Tarneit in Melbourne’s western suburbs yet apparently has his primary home down the coast in Queenscliff, 100km from Melbourne.
The really interesting thing for me though, was finding out he also has another home in Footscray, near to his constituency. Why? Well under MPs’ allowance rules, any MP who declares their primary residence as being 80km or more from Melbourne is entitled to claim an allowance for a second home. Importantly, this entitlement is regardless of where their constituency is located, which doesn’t come into it at all – it is simply based on where the MP states his or her primary residence is.
Therefore by declaring his first home to be in Queenscliff, Telmo Languiller makes himself eligible to claim a second home allowance for his Melbourne property in Footscray. Doing it the other way round would exclude him from those extra expenses (more than $36,000 per year) as it rightly should. The whole purpose of the second home allowance is to support MPs in regional Victoria who can’t easily commute into the city, not to subsidise Melbourne MPs who want a second home on the coast.
If Languiller is in fact claiming a second home allowance, that would mean public money is being used to pay for his Melbourne home, despite him representing a Melbourne metropolitan constituency. And that would be scandalous.
Of course he may not be claiming the second home allowance at all, given it would be a clear abuse of the system (albeit technically within the rules).
If he isn’t claiming for the Footscray property though, why wouldn’t he declare that as his first home instead of the Queenscliff one, given Footscray neighbours his constituency (and knowing he will cop criticism for being registered as living in Queenscliff instead)? Curious.
Either way we aren’t allowed to know, because the list of MPs claiming for a second home is being kept secret. And the only way to obtain it is to get agreement from… Telmo Languiller.
Please tell us, Telmo!
Coming clean and reforming the system
Three things need to urgently happen in my opinion:
- Telmo Languiller needs to say whether or not he is claiming a second home allowance.*
- The DPS needs to clean up its act and release the full list of State MPs claiming second homes allowances, and how much each has claimed in recent years.
- The Andrews Government needs to get on top of the expenses scandal by making the Victorian Parliament allowance system more transparent, publishing a full list of allowances claimed by all MPs online.
* I have emailed Telmo Languiller to specifically clarify if he is claiming for a second home.
If I get a response I will update this post to reflect that new information. [Update: I didn’t get a reply from him but The Age did after I flagged this up with them and encouraged them to put the question to him.]
Got any info about MP expenses you want to share? Drop me a line.