Members and Senators spent more than $550,000 on flags across a three-month period last year. Picture: Heidi Linehan
Members and Senators spent more than $550,000 on flags across a three-month period last year. Picture: Heidi Linehan

Taxpayers slogged $550K for shock item

EXCLUSIVE: Parliamentarians slogged taxpayers more than $550,000 for flag purchases over a three-month period last year.

News Corp Australia analysed the last round of reports released by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, and found Senators and MPs spent $566,091.51 on flags between July 1 and September 31, 2018.

The Australian Taxpayers Alliance has slammed the charges, calling for more transparency to promote public scrutiny.

 

Members and Senators spent more than $550,000 on flags across a three-month period last year. Picture: Heidi Linehan
Members and Senators spent more than $550,000 on flags across a three-month period last year. Picture: Heidi Linehan

The data shows Labor parliamentarians spent the most across the period, charging $284,219.91 to the public purse while the Coalition spent $247,752.95 on flags.

The Greens splashed $11,786.08 and Independents and minor parties charged taxpayers $22,332.57.

When it came to individuals, Labor's Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters spent the most on flags with a bill of $14,942.42.

Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch racked up $13,537.34 of flag-related expenses, with Labor's member for the northern Queensland seat of Herbert Cathy O'Toole came in third at $11,047.76.

Victoria’s Labor Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters spent the most on flags from July 1 to September 31, 2018, but defended the cost. Picture: Sean Davey
Victoria’s Labor Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters spent the most on flags from July 1 to September 31, 2018, but defended the cost. Picture: Sean Davey

Ms Chesters defended her expenditure, saying she received "countless requests for flags" and that it was unfair to compare her regional electorate to metro counterparts.

"The Bendigo Electorate covers over 6000sq km between Elmore and Kyneton. Unlike many of the metro based electorates, the Bendigo electorate is made up of lots of old towns like Maldon, Woodend and Heathcote, many of which have their own schools, RSL, CFA, sporting clubs, community halls and local groups," Ms Chesters said.

"We simply have more RSLs, groups and organisations that qualify."

The Department of Finance said flags and nationhood materials must be ordered through the contracted officer supplier.

There is a standard price for each item, and the price of flags would differ depending on its size, type and material.

Rules by the department state parliamentarians can distribute National, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to:

  • Organisations such as schools, local councils, churches and other groups "which have occasion to display the flag from flag poles on their premises";
  • Community organisations, Australian exchange students and humanitarian aid workers undertaking official visits or duties overseas;
  • A family member, or an ex-service organisation representative, for use at the funeral of an Australian war veteran.

There is no limit to the amount of flags that can be purchased, with their office budgets - funded by taxpayers - the only constraint.

Only 50 large flags are permitted to be presented to "private individuals".

Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch spent the second most on flags at a cost of $13,537.42. Picture: Tom Lee
Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch spent the second most on flags at a cost of $13,537.42. Picture: Tom Lee

Australian Taxpayer Alliance campaign director Brian Marlow said many Australians would have no objection to flags being presented to ex-service people or their relatives, but called for greater transparency when it came to expense reporting.

Currently, the public is only able to view the total amount spent, rather than a itemised list.

"There should be greater transparency around this expense, so people can scrutinise the number of flags ordered and check where they are being distributed," Mr Marlow said.

"I think what this also highlights is politicians' approach to spending, and in some cases, the costs seem overblown for what they're supposed to cover."

Mr Marlow suggested spending caps for flags could be introduced.

The IPEA expects to release the October to December 2018 set of expenditure reports by the end of March.

 

TOP 10 MOST EXPENSIVE FLAG BILLS: JULY 1 TO SEPTEMBER 31, 2018

 

1) Lisa Chesters, Labor Party - $14,942.43

2) Warren Entsch, Liberal Party - $13,537.42

3) Cathy O'Toole, Labor Party - $11,047.46

4) Bob Katter, Katter's Australian Party - $10,514.31

5) Michael McCormack, National Party - $10,492.10

6) Brendan O'Connor, Labor Party - $8066.40

7) Emma Husar, Labor Party - $7807

8) David Littleproud, National Party - $7126.69

9) Rowan Ramsey, Liberal Party - $6992.16

10) Nola Marino, Liberal Party - $6968.35

Maverick Katter’s Australian Party leader Bob Katter spent $10,514.31. Picture: Supplied
Maverick Katter’s Australian Party leader Bob Katter spent $10,514.31. Picture: Supplied