Expenses scandal: Tony Abbott is under pressure to rewrite the rules. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Tony Abbott is resisting demands from all sides of politics to rein in MPs' entitlements, with one of his colleagues saying taxpayer-funded weddings and sporting events failed the "pub test".
After repaying expenses that he claimed for attending weddings and defending using the public purse to compete in an Ironman event, Mr Abbott is under pressure to fix the system.
Clive Palmer, who could hold the balance of power in the new Senate, said Mr Abbott needed to change the rules immediately. Labor, the Greens and the independent Senator Nick Xenophon all warned the Prime Minister not to ignore the need for reform.
Even a member of Mr Abbott’s party, Liberal MP Dennis Jensen, said the rules were too vague and needed to be clarified. Another Liberal colleague, Victorian MP Russell Broadbent, said he did not think attendance at weddings and sporting events passed the ''pub test'' for legitimate use of public funds.
The Prime Minister, in Brunei for the East Asia Summit, appeared frustrated that his international tour continued to be marred by questions about MPs' expenses.
Mr Abbott said there would ''always be arguments at the margins'' and changing the rules would achieve nothing.
''I'm not proposing to change the system . . . You don't want members of Parliament to be prisoners of their offices,'' he said.
Under the present rules, federal MPs are entitled to taxpayer-funded travel anywhere in Australia for ''parliamentary, electorate or official business''.
Mr Abbott used the term ''official business'' to justify billing taxpayers $1300 to compete in the 2011 Port Macquarie Ironman.
Despite repeated requests, Mr Abbott's office has not provided details of any other community events or official business he conducted while in Port Macquarie other than competing in the triathlon.
Mr Abbott has also been criticised for claiming more than $23,000 on trips linked to last year's Coffs Coast Cycle Challenge, the 2011 Bathurst V8 Supercar race, 2010 Melbourne Cup, 2010 Boxing Day Test match at the MCG, and 2011 Birdsville Races.
Dr Jensen said he wanted more clarity. ''There are areas where it's grey and it's ambiguous. I would prefer that it was just far more explicit with examples of what does fit and what doesn't fit.''
But while there is widespread acknowledgement that something is wrong with the rules, there is no agreement on what should be done to fix them. Labor's acting leader Chris Bowen said he would wait for the government to propose changes and he ''would look very sympathetically and in good faith at steps to do that''.
Mining magnate Mr Palmer, who now effectively controls four Senate seats after striking a deal with motoring enthusiast Ricky Muir, believes politicians should be given a lump sum payment every year, ''and let them manage it''.
Greens leader Christine Milne wants a national integrity commissioner to oversee the system.
''Under Mr Abbott we'll continue to see these kinds of scandals because he is refusing to back the Greens' plan for independent oversight,'' Senator Milne said.
Senator Xenophon has proposed that politicians write short reports explaining their reasons for domestic travel; downgrade to economy for flights of less than two hours; and repay double the cost of incorrect claims.
Allan Fels, who was a member of a committee that reviewed the system of entitlements in 2010, says the public is best served by more transparency. He said the online log of politicians' expenses - a recent reform - was the most effective change so far.