Federal Politics

'Personal limo service': treasured by politicians, COMCARS are now on the chopping block

It's a familiar sight in Canberra during a sitting week: the long lines of white COMCARS waiting patiently outside the entrances to Parliament House. 

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The fleet of shiny sedans ferry MPs and Senators wherever they need to go, including to and from home, out to dinner or to a function. They also wait outside Canberra airport at the start of a sitting week, in a cross between a taxi rank and a personal limo service. 

But one of the most treasured pollie perks could be on the chopping block, with an independent review finding the so-called COMCAR "shuttle service" - the lines of cars outside Parliament and the airport - is not good value for taxpayer's money. 

Review into parliamentary entitlements triggered following the Bronwyn Bishop helicopter scandal.
Review into parliamentary entitlements triggered following the Bronwyn Bishop helicopter scandal. Photo: Andrew Meares

"Whilst convenient for [MPs], it is inefficient. And its full cost is not transparent," the review, released on Wednesday says. 

COMCAR - the Commonwealth car with driver service - is also able to be booked in all metropolitan and country areas, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. 

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The cars are guaranteed to be less than four years old. 

The report also finds that the costs of the program, primarily run by the Department of Finance, are not reported on "either an aggregate or individual basis". 

COMCARS line up outside the House of Representatives.
COMCARS line up outside the House of Representatives. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Parts of the booking system are also "very paper-based". 

It is recommended that if the service is kept, major changes should be introduced, including reducing lunch-time services outside Parliament and stopping the Sunday evening Canberra airport rank. 

Comcars wait to pick-up the politicians after a swearing-in ceremony at Government House.
Comcars wait to pick-up the politicians after a swearing-in ceremony at Government House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

It also says shuttle busses and "sharing arrangements" should be made for trips to the airport during peak times. ​

The committee, which includes former politicians Harry Jenkins and Brendan Nelson, adds that "more generally" parliamentarians are charged "well below" what other COMCAR clients are charged. 

Surely there can be a more efficient use of the valuable time of our drivers than having them sit there waiting for parliamentarians to zip out for five minutes

"And have not been adjusted for some years." 

Currently, MPs are charged $78.60 per hour, while others are charged $110. 

The cars outside Old Parliament House in 1983.
The cars outside Old Parliament House in 1983. Photo: David Bartho

"As a result, the reporting of parliamentary COMCAR costs and usage does not represent the real cost of travel." 

The review, which considers the entire parliamentary entitlements system, was triggered following the Bronwyn Bishop helicopter scandal last year. 

The government has indicated it will accept the recommendations, saying it supported them "in principle" and would now "commence work on implementation". 

Labor frontbencher Sam Dastyari also said he supported changes to the COMCAR system. 

"It's madness that you have a situation where cars are being kept all day when the parliamentary sitting schedule is reasonably clear," he said. 

"Surely there can be a more efficient use of the valuable time of our drivers than having them sit there waiting for parliamentarians to zip out for five minutes." 

Senator Dastyari said that while there was no "culture of ride sharing" among MPs, this could change. 

"A little bit more sharing and people getting in cars together will perhaps break down some of the divide in this place."

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