The independent watchdog established to shine a light on federal MPs travel expenses has revealed it is unable to provide taxpayers with any information about a single MP in Australia citing an IT malfunction.
One year on after Special Minister of State Don Farrell made the shock decision to suspend all public reporting of MPs’ travel and demanded an audit investigation, the computer system still hasn’t been fixed.
The complete breakdown in reporting of MPs’ expenses has been laid bare in new correspondence rejecting four separate freedom of information requests lodged by news.com.au.
Despite requests for any travel summaries for any expenditure by Anthony Albanese, Peter Dutton, Richard Marles, Scott Morrison or any other MP, the watchdog said the material did not exist and could not be created.
“IPEA is not in possession of a document as described in your request,” it said.
“IPEA is also unable to create a document as described as the expenditure report functionality for the Parliamentary Expenses Management System (PEMS) is still being built.”
The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority has more than 50 staff and costs millions of dollars a year to operate.
The organisation is responsible for administering over $50 million in travel expenses for MPs annually.
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.
The Albanese Government ordered an information blackout on the publication of all parliamentarians travel last year citing the computer IT problem.
Senator Farrell wrote the Auditor-General in November, 2022 requesting an investigation to examine the Parliamentary Expenses Management System project.
“Since coming to office as the Special Minister of State, I have become aware of the severity of these issues,” he wrote.
“This includes the failure of the new system to produce expenditure reports — as required by legislation. “I am in the course of working with the Department of Finance and the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA) to rectify this system.
“However, due to both the high cost and implementation delays across this project, together with the importance of this system to the transparency and integrity of the Parliament, I would be grateful if you would consider conducting a performance audit of the PEMS project at your convenience.”
Auditor General Grant Hehir subsequently confirmed an audit had commenced. The audit is due to table in December 2023.
The backlog 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 separate 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.
This is despite legislation that expressly requires the government to publish the material.
Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority chair Ms Jillian Segal AO spoke of “challenges” in last years annual report.
“There will be inevitable teething issues as the new system is deployed but IPEA looks forward to PEMS being fully implemented and enabling greater efficiency and transparency during the next year,” she said.
But Greens Senator David Shoebridge told news.com.au the system was a mess.
“No matter which way you look at this government they throw up a closed door on government information,” he said.
“There’s no proactive disclosures, new secrecy rules and a broken parliamentary computer program they point their finger at.
“Like most governments they seem content that every ray of sunshine is blacked out. “What’s unusual with the Albanese government is that it normally takes more than a year in office for a government to love the shadows so much.”