Our politicians spend a lot of our money – on representing us and on ensuring that they continue to be the one representing us. Politicians’ expenses are the way to understand what’s being spent in our name.
And so we’re clear, that’s almost $61 million in expenses so far in 2021.
There’s no question that there are legitimate expenses in being a political representative. So simply looking at who spends the most is facile – but it’s fun so we’re going to do it anyway.
But beyond the that, there are important reasons to keep an eye on what’s being spent. It’s important to note how often flights to places align with sporting events. Or to understand that those surveys you received in the mail from your representative, splashed with their picture and party colours, were paid for out of the public purse. My local member, for example, has spent $138,000 on printing and distribution so far this year.
The good news is that quarterly reports are publicly published on expenses claimed by pollies. But, as is so often the case, they are published late and awkwardly. While there’s no practical reason these couldn’t be in a standardised database accessible immediately, there’s no political will to make that happen.
But with a bit of effort we can shine some light on expenses. From seeing who spends the most to seeing where our own politician spends our money.
Our latest gadget brings a new starting point for expenses. We start with a Year-to-Date aggregation of total expenses claimed – all in a handy table. From there you can dig into the headline spend YTD, or follow links and get the details for the latest quarter and dig back into history.
There are two important ideas to bear in mind when looking at expenses. The first is, again, expenses are legitimate – there is a cost to doing the stuff that needs to be done.
But the second is the huge benefit of incumbency: Hundreds of thousands of dollars available to the incumbent representative from the public purse (before we get to donations) to publicise what they are doing, to travel about, to hire staff, and so on.
The value in having this data available is not in it being published, but in people looking at it and understanding what’s being done – that’s how we keep our representatives honest.