All MPs checking expenses
With the outcry on MPs' expenses now extending to some of the Prime Minister's bike riding trips, the PM's parliamentary secretary says all federal politicians would have been looking back for possible problems with their claims.PT1M35S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2v7x9 620 349 October 9, 2013
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- Richard Ackland: Why Slipper's Cabcharges may be different to PM's weddings
- Comment: Abbott owns rort problems
The words ''travel rorts'' in Australian political vernacular are a signpost to a road that can end in disaster for those who take it, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott would know it better than most.
In 19 years in Parliament, he has witnessed up close some of the most spectacular casualties among those who have been judged, or merely accused, as rorters.
"Calculated to give the public value for its money" : Former prime minister John Howard's code of conduct. Photo: AFR
There was, of course, the Labor turncoat and champion rorter Mal Colston, and now Liberal defector Peter Slipper, both pursued relentlessly by former colleagues furious at being jilted. But Mr Abbott doesn't have to merely consider the ruin that can afflict defectors.
Three years after entering Parliament, he watched as political patron John Howard took just three days in September 1997 to sack three ministers over what became known as the ''travel rorts affair''.
Howard's code of conduct demanded everything a minister did should be ''calculated to give the public value for its money'' and that they did not abuse any of their privileges.
Well aware: Having worked alongside John Howard, the impacts of "travel rorts" are familiar to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
That high-minded code has long been discarded, which is fortunate for Abbott. He'd likely have to sack himself and several of his new wedding-frolicking ministers under its severe prescriptions.
Abbott would have been aware of the pitfalls lurking for those involved in even the pettiest of rorts well before he entered Parliament.
The man who occupied his seat of Warringah before him, Michael MacKellar, lost his position as a Fraser government minister over no more than a colour television. In 1982, Mr MacKellar imported a colour TV. A staffer listed it on the customs form as black and white, thus avoiding duty. Mr MacKellar resigned, along with customs minister John Moore, who botched the cover-up.
Two years later, a new Labor minister copped the treatment. In 1984, customs officials searched a suitcase of the wife of Mick Young, a Hawke government minister. They found a Paddington Bear. It hadn't been declared for duty. Young was forced to resign until a judicial inquiry cleared him.
The Labor Party, unsurprisingly, is choosing its words very carefully about the ''wedding rorts affair'', though shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus is surely ruing his decision to call for an investigation only hours before confessing he'd billed taxpayers for a skiing trip to Perisher Valley.
Labor MPs would know that somewhere in the Abbott government's offices, eagle-eyed employees are perusing the travel habits of every ALP member, building files for tit-for-tat combat.
Ghastly consequences can arise when politicians throw stones in glass houses.
When Labor took to self-righteous celebrating at John Howard's loss of travel rorting ministers, then treasurer Peter Costello discovered Labor's Nick Sherry had been claiming his travelling allowance while staying at the home of his mother in Tasmania's Opossum Bay.
''Can you imagine,'' Costello crowed in Parliament, ''the kind of welcome he would get?''
'''Oh possum!' she says. 'Oh possum. You're home!'''
The next night Senator Sherry was found in a pool of blood in his Canberra flat, having tried to take his own life. Senator Sherry later absolved Mr Costello of responsibility, saying he'd been depressed and was drinking too much. But it put an end to that particular round of political brawling over travel rorts.
Not a single federal minister has been forced to take a dive over travel rorts since.
The essential regulations haven't changed, and the behaviour pretty clearly hasn't, either.
The politicians have simply done what they often do best, altered the language to their benefit.
The ''Minchin protocol'', introduced in 1998, pay back the money and you skate.