Turnbull minister invokes penalty rates to defend travel allowance

Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack arrives for the Mid Winter Ball at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 31 August 2016. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen fedpol Photo: Alex EllinghausenMalcolm Turnbull’s Small Business Minister has charged taxpayers nearly $50,000 to stay in his wife’s Canberra apartment but has defended the spending by comparing his travel allowance to penalty rates.


Michael McCormack is one of about 50 federal politicians believed to use their $273-a-night Canberra travel allowance to help pay off a second home. His wife bought the property in the leafy suburb of Kingston – close to Parliament House – in May 2013 and he now stays there whenever he visits.

The Nationals MP claimed $48,256 in Canberra travel allowance between May 2013 and June 2016 and has likely claimed close to a further $10,000 in the last nine months, although those expenses have not yet been disclosed.

The allowance comes on top of his ministerial salary of $313,500.

The New South Wales-based MP is not breaking any rules, but his defence of the spending has drawn fire given the Coalition’s support for the Fair Work Commission’s cuts to some Sunday penalty rates.

“I get a travel allowance, others get penalty rates – it’s part of the package,” he told his local newspaper, The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga.

In an interview last year – after he was named by Fairfax Media as one of the MPs who use their allowance to pay off a mortgage – Mr McCormack also said politicians earned less than people in the private sector and did not deserve so much scrutiny.

Asked whether he stood by the penalty rates comments this week, Mr McCormack said salaries and allowances were set independently.

“As determined by the independent Remuneration Tribunal, members of Parliament receive a flat rate for accommodation in Canberra,” which “is paid regardless of an MP’s position, electorate and party”, he said.

But Labor employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor slammed Mr McCormack’s comments.

???”Mr McCormack is just another member of the government who is so divorced from the lives of working Australians that he doesn’t understand the difference between low-paid workers relying on penalty rates and his own travel entitlements,” he said.

As many as one in five federal politicians use their travel allowances to supplement the cost of second homes in Canberra.

Other ministers including Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Social Services Minister Christian Porter and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion also stay in houses or apartments they own and claim the allowance. Labor frontbenchers including Richard Marles and Penny Wong also claim the allowance.

While the Turnbull government is cracking down on politicians’ entitlements, it is understood to have no intention of scrapping or reducing the Canberra travel allowance, even for those MPs who use it to pay off mortgages.

The payment was examined as part of an investigation into MPs’ allowances but the review recommended no changes.

“How parliamentarians use the flat rate allowance to support their accommodation in Canberra is a matter for them,” said the review, which was released a year ago and forms the basis of many of the government’s changes.

Many small business owners – with whom Mr McCormack works closely as minister – have welcomed the commission’s penalty rates decision last month, saying it may help them open more often and take on more staff.

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