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The review of federal politicians’ parliamentary perks was sparked by the Bronwyn Bishop “choppergate” scandal. Photo: Dallas Kilponen Bronwyn Bishop resigned last August after it was revealed she spent more than $5000 to charter a helicopter to attend a party fundraiser. Photo: James Brickwood
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Just how hard did our federal politicians fight to keep their generous parliamentary perks? We may never know for sure.

Somewhere in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is a document that sets out what more than 50 politicians told the entitlements review sparked by the Bronwyn Bishop choppergate scandal.

It’s understood most of them argued strongly to keep their perks in place – and they were largely successful. But public servants are doing everything in their power to keep details of the interviews secret.

A Fairfax Media Freedom of Information request for the document was initially refused by the department on the grounds that its release would “substantially and unreasonably” divert the resources of the department.

While the interview transcripts are all contained in a single document, department officials estimated its release would take 100 hours of work because it would involve consultations with all the people involved.

That decision was set aside on appeal but officials then found new reasons to keep the document secret.

The department now says the document would be almost entirely redacted because it would expose the review’s “deliberative process” and reveal “personal information” about the interviewees. It will not even release the redacted version, arguing it would be “meaningless”.

The department agrees the document would “inform debate about a matter of public importance” but believes “public interest factors against access outweigh the public interest factors favouring disclosure”.

The independent Information Commissioner is now considering the request.

As revealed by Fairfax Media in March, the entitlements review did not recommend a major overhaul of the entitlements system – despite the red-hot public anger over the scandal that led to Mrs Bishop’s downfall as Speaker.

Tony Abbott announced the review last August, the same day Mrs Bishop resigned after it was revealed she spent more than $5000 to charter a helicopter to travel from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a party fundraiser.

The scandal opened the entitlements floodgates, sparking public fury and tarnishing MPs on all sides of politics. The scandal did so much damage to Mrs Bishop she was eventually dumped from Parliament by her own party.

The review panel – made up by former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson, former Labor Speaker Harry Jenkins, businesswoman Linda Nicholls and public service officials David Tune and John Conde – found the current system was “complex, ambiguous and out of step with community expectations”.

It made 36 recommendations, all of which were adopted in principle by the Turnbull government – however their implementation appears to be going slow due to the federal election.

The review recommended clearer guidelines and greater transparency and the rebranding of entitlements as “work expenses”.

It called for a clearer definition of what can be class as “parliamentary business” and restrictions around “value for money” travel.

It also recommended a crackdown on COMCARs being used for personal travel. It also said that “in the absence of compelling reasons, helicopters cannot be chartered to cover short distances”.

However the vast majority of perks were untouched.

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