The five federal politicians disqualified over their citizenship status collected close to $9 million in taxpayer-funded salaries they were not entitled to.
Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce accounts for $2.8 million of that money and his former Nationals deputy Fiona Nash $2.6 million. Both first entered parliament in 2005 and have benefited from ministerial bonuses since 2013.
Former Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters were paid $1.8 million and $1.3 million respectively, and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts collected about $266,000 between the 2016 election and Friday’s High Court verdict.
All up, they collected a total of $8,769,509 in base salary and ministerial bonuses. The figure – based on an analysis of MP pay rates and positions held over the last 13 years – does not include committee bonuses or any allowances. It also does not include any staff or office costs.
And it comes on top of the price tag of the High Court case itself, which has been estimated to have cost taxpayers up to $3 million given the Commonwealth picked up the tab for half a dozen of the nation’s top silks and their teams.
However none of the five were eligible for the generous parliamentary defined benefits scheme pension because all were elected after 2004.
All five MPs were booted out of Parliament after the court ruled them ineligible because of their dual citizenship. Mr Joyce and Mr Ludlam had New Zealand citizenships, Ms Nash and Mr Roberts British and Ms Waters Canadian.
While the verdict only related to their eligibility at the time of last year’s election, all five inherited their dual citizenship status at birth – meaning all were in fact illegitimately elected for the entirety of their federal political careers.
While the Turnbull government could pursue repayment – at least for the roughly $1.3 million paid out since July 2016 – it is unlikely to do so.
While the Department of Finance is likely to write to the dumped MPs with a bill for salaries, allowances, superannuation and staff payments, they can easily apply to the government for a waiver.
Former Family First senator Bob Day did just that earlier this year after he was disqualified for contravening pecuniary interest elements of the constitution.
Special Minister of State Scott Ryan agreed to the waiver, saying it was “consistent with the outcome in previous similar cases”.
That approach would only be likely to change if evidence emerged that an MP had deliberately or knowingly defrauded the taxpayer.
Asked on Monday whether the MPs should pay back any money, acting Prime Minister Julie Bishop said: “That would be a matter of advice from the Department of Finance and that would be a matter for the Finance Minister.”
Original article by Adam Gartrell in SMH 31 Oct 2017
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