A botched system upgrade has created a vast backlog of MP expense claims that will not be cleared until at least mid-2024, leaving details of travel expenses and office and employee costs unscrutinised, documents reveal.
Problems upgrading a crucial reporting system have left MP travel expenses unchecked for almost a year and this is likely to continue until mid-2024, the documents reveal.
It has prevented public scrutiny of MP expenses with Australians blind to how their politicians are spending taxpayer money on hotels, flights, and office and employee costs.
This means the most recent data on MP expenses available to the public is almost 12 months old.
The new reporting system is expected to come online in mid-2023.
But freedom of information documents suggest significant further delays before a return to full transparency.
The lack of a functioning reporting system means the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (Ipea) has been unable to fully process MPs’ travel and office expense claims since July.
That has created a backlog of 12 months’ worth of expense claims that can only be reviewed once the new system comes online.
Internal documents show Ipea expects it will take until mid-2024 to work through the backlog on what it describes as a “rolling schedule”.
Blocks of expense claims from the backlog will need to be compiled into reports by Ipea and sent to MPs for review, before they can be released to the public periodically between mid-2023 and mid-2024.
MPs will be given two weeks to review each expenditure report and a one-week break until the next one is sent.
For the public, it means yet more delays to accountability and transparency over MPs’ travel claims. It is likely to create a lag of roughly 12 months between an MP making an expense claim and it being disclosed publicly.
The special minister of state, Don Farrell, said the current lack of transparency “should never have occurred”, blaming the former government’s botching of the system upgrade project.
Farrell said he had consistently raised concerns over the former Coalition government’s failure to upgrade the system – known as the parliamentary expense management system (Pems) – while in opposition.
“To be clear, this should never have occurred,” he said.
“Labor has raised multiple concerns over successive years with Pems, including repeated questioning at Senate estimates since the project’s commencement.”
“In November, I wrote to the auditor general requesting a full audit of the project, including its implementation and high cost. I am glad the auditor general has accepted my suggestion, and an audit is now under way.”
An Ipea spokesperson said it expected to be able to begin work on the backlog in the “second half of 2023”. It aimed to publish expenditure reports for 2022-23 periodically through to mid-2024.
“The regular cycle will then continue,” the spokesperson said.
The expenses reports released by Ipea promote political integrity, transparency and accountability. They have helped to expose a string of expense scandals. In 2020, Guardian Australia used the reports to reveal that cabinet ministers, the then Labor opposition, and Pauline Hanson had all billed taxpayers to travel the country for political party fundraising events.
A review in 2016 recommended against any lag in reporting MP expense claims. It said expense claims should be disclosed to the public every quarter at first, and monthly once an upgraded system was ready.
In 2013, the Department of Finance warned any reporting lag would leave Australia behind the rest of the developed world.
The department advised the then government that reducing the “reporting lag would improve the transparency” of the system and bring it into line with countries such as the UK, France and the US. In those countries, “reporting lags have been reduced to less than one month”, it said.