Taxpayers foot Fouras' car bills

by Chris Griffith
Published 10 July 1994 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Queensland taxpayers picked up an $800 petrol bill when the family of parliamentary Speaker Jim Fouras drove his electorate vehicle to and from Melbourne twice over the Christmas period.

Documents obtained by The Sunday Mail show Mr Fouras's family drove his electorate vehicle to and from Melbourne on two separate occasions over the Christmas period, clocking up thousands of kilometres, and placing $800 of petrol (1,300 litres) on the government tab in just 6 weeks.

It is understood Mr Fouras was not in the vehicle, except for the second return trip, and that the trips were part of preparations for the marriage of Mr Fouras's son in Melbourne in early February. Mr Fouras later flew to Melbourne for the wedding.

Petrol vouchers for the trip were signed "M. Fouras" , Mr Fouras's wife , as were petrol vouchers submitted during several months of the previous year.

Sources say the heavy usage of the electorate car, a $26,000 ex-tax six cylinder red Fairmont sedan, caused it to be replaced in March after clocking over 40,000 kilometers in just 13 months. Under government policy, cars are expected to last around two years before reaching 40,000 kilometers and being replaced.

There is nothing illegal about Ministers and the Speaker using their electorate car for private purposes including during holiday periods. The government's Ministerial Procedures Manual says Cabinet agreed in November 1990 that "all running costs [are] met by Government".

However sources say the scheme is being abused - some electorate cars are virtually a permanent family car and not used for the electorate duties they were intended.

Early this year, Industrial Relations Minister Matt Foley faced criticism over a similarly legal trip when it was revealed he used his ministerial Fairlane for a Christmas family motoring holiday to Sydney. Again, petrol costs were charged to the taxpayer.

Mr Fouras, who told last month's Estimates Committee hearing he was "a reasonably frugal speaker", yesterday defended his use of his electorate car.

"I'm not embarrassed by this at all. I have nothing to hide. It so happened that one of my children was marrying a Melbourne girl, and we went to Melbourne at that time", Mr Fouras said.

"The guidelines say clearly that my wife can drive the car."

Mr Fouras admitted he did use the car "overwhelmingly" for private use.

"It is my private car given to me because I am the Speaker of the Parliament, I don't have anything to apologise for at all," he said.

"The guidelines are very clear that I may use that car 24 hours a day for all purposes, private or electoral ... I guess in some ways the name [electorate car] is a misnoma."

"I think you have to look at the overall usage. The car certainly was used a lot at that time, but overall it doesn't get used a lot at all ... I'm not running with the car all over the place, at all," he said.

"My having an electorate car is cheaper for the Parliament than getting the $8,000 car allowance because when we trade the car in we barely lose any money on it at all as sales tax is not paid on the purchase ... I'm not costing the state any more than the average backbencher."

He said under the former National Party government, ministers received both a car allowance and an electorate car and that situation had now been stopped.

Yesterday Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge hit out at the legal but uncontrolled use of ministerial cars, comparing their use to the activities of former National Party ministers Lane, Austin, Harvey, and Muntz who were jailed for misusing their ministerial credit cards.

"It appears the Government has legitimised activities that just a few years ago sent four former National Party ministers to jail," Mr Borbidge said.

"This is just another example of the fact we have one set of rules for the executive and Labor Party office holders, and another set for everybody else," he said.

Opposition frontbencher Denver Beanland called for the tabling of parliamentary fleet control reports which detail the Speaker's petrol claims.

He said any repayment of Mr Fouras's $800 holiday petrol bill was a matter for his conscience.

Fouras family "pit stops", December 22, 1993 - February 9, 1994

        Date         Fill up point         Litres          Cost
        ------       -------------------   ------      --------
        Dec 22       The Gap, Qld           47.27        $25.46
        Dec 23       Goondiwindi, Qld       39.78        $22.07
        Dec 23       Dubbo, NSW             55.41        $35.30
        Dec 23       Jerilderie, NSW        61.22        $38.33
        Dec 26       Chirnside Park, Vic    55.59        $34.63
        Dec 29       Doncaster East, Vic    58.03        $36.15
        Jan 3        Coburg, Vic            43.58        $26.91
        Jan 9        Doncaster East, Vic    69.94        $43.18
        Jan 20       Coburg, Vic            32.84        $20.11
        Jan 20       Jerilderie, NSW        59.86        $36.84
        Jan 20       Dubbo, NSW             56.07        $35.12
        Jan 20       Dubbo, NSW            ------         $5.00 (oil)
        Jan 20       Goondiwindi, Qld       55.01        $29.93
        Jan 24       South Brisbane, Qld    64.00        $33.79
        Jan 25       South Brisbane, Qld    28.00        $14.78
        Jan 27       Moree, NSW             60.78        $35.26
        Jan 28       Parkes, NSW            54.14        $33.75
        Jan 28       Wunghnu, Vic           57.80        $36.72
        Jan 31       Preston, Vic           67.79        $41.51
        Feb 3        Heidelberg, Vic        65.90        $40.84
        Feb 5        Doncaster East, Vic    63.29        $39.22
        Feb 7        Doncaster, Vic         63.85        $39.57
        Feb 9        Finley, NSW            52.10        $32.86
        Feb 9        Dubbo, NSW             62.43        $39.57
        Feb 9        Goondiwindi, Qld       53.77        $29.65
        -----                         -----------      --------
        TOTAL                            1,328.45       $806.55
        -----                         -----------      --------

What state MP's now get for travel

All state politicians are entitled to a $7,905 annual car allowance, an annual travel allocation of $8,455, the notorious MP's daily travel allowance (investigated in 1991 by the CJC), special air travel entitlements, and a gold rail pass for free national first-class rail travel.

They receive further benefits and allowances should they represent remote Queensland electorates. MP's representing Charters Towers, Cook, Gregory, Mount Isa, and Warrego, for example, can opt for a four wheel drive vehicle, and around a quarter of state MPs qualify for a special car allowance of up to $1,116 per year.

An MP's spouse receives free rail travel within Queensland, and free interstate rail travel for four return or eight single journeys per year.

MP's, of course, receive other allowances such as electorate allowances (starting at $24,684), free office phones, free office equipment, and a home phone subsidised to 85 per cent.

Currently their salaries range from $69,193 for a backbencher to $141,590 for Premier Goss. That's before the $4,767 pay increase state MPs expect to receive in line with their federal collegues.

Further entitlements are available to government ministers, the Speaker, oppositon leaders, committee chairs, and whips, for example, a vehicle for travel between Parliament and their electorate.

In addition, ministers and the Speaker can forgo their $7,905 annual car allowance to receive a fully taxpayer-funded electorate vehicle.

That's on top of the Chauffeur-driven car available 24 hours per day to ministers and the Speaker for official and private purposes. These ministerial allowances were endorsed at a Cabinet meeting of ministers held in October, 1990.

The CJC's1991 MP travel rorts inquiry investigated the travel of 54 current and former MPs and claimed the scalp of two ministers - Health Minister Ken McElligott and Police Minister Terry Mackenroth.

The inquiry remains the most traumatic event faced collectively by state politicians since the Fitzgerald inquiry.

The CJC's report made 14 recommendations for revamping MP's travel entitlements. One was that details be published annually of every journey for which MPs claim the daily travel allowance and other travel entitlements.

As a result, our backbenchers are now accountable for the trips they make at taxpayers' expense.

Unfortunately ministers are not as accountable publicly, as they can claim their travel as ministerial expenses. They therefore avoid daily travel allowance claims and the accompaning need to detail individual journeys.

For example, Premier Wayne Goss, Deputy Premier Tom Burns, and ministers Gibbs and Wells last year filed nil returns for travel allowances in 1992-93, yet claimed ministerial expenses of $123,199; $116,664; $103,688; and $60,432 respectively.

Likewise ministers and the Speaker do not detail the use of their chauffeur driven and electorate vehicles. That's a pity, because the tabling of fleet control reports and petrol claim vouchers would act as a strong disincentive against the abuse of these entitlements.

It must be remembered Mr Fouras earns $101,143 annually and receives many allowances. He already qualifies for a gold rail pass for life. Like other MPs, he is set to receive a $4,767 pay rise. His wife, too, is entitled to free rail travel in Queensland and four free interstate rail trips annually. The latter she can receive for the rest of her life.

It is therefore hard to understand how the Fouras's can expect taxpayers to pay their holiday fuel bill of $800, representing a massive 1300 litres of fuel consumed in just six weeks - and the accompanying excessive wear and tear on a government car replaced just one month later.

by Chris Griffith