Bleats

Enough With The Entitlements, Politicians: Start Justifying Your Expenses At Tax Time Like The Rest Of Us

After all, isn't the age of entitlement supposedly over?

It’s tax time, friends! Yes, the glorious season where we, as a nation, go “what, that’s all I made last year? Oh god, where are my receipts? Alright, this year I’m keeping up to date with my accounts, honest, I’m doing a spreadsheet every week” and/or “wait a second, if I’m paying this in tax then why the hell am I getting so many service cuts in everything?”

And as we do go through that annual dance of paperwork, one former and one current federal political have called out politicians for using the tax period to plonk payments into their own pockets: specifically, their electoral allowance which is meant to cover local duties and is under no obligation to be spent thusly.

Yeah. You heard right.

“MPs are well paid. The electoral allowance is money you should spend in your electorate, not pad your bank account,” said ex-senator Derryn Hinch to the SMH, “This stuff’s been hidden but there’s a scandal there.”

Current Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie added “I suspect some spend none of it and suddenly you’ve got an extra $32,000 in income. It’s a misuse of the allowance.”

And look, It’s easy to bash pollies. We know they’re busy people with a lot on their mind.

That would explain why they so often do things like claim travel allowances to go to weddings and to check out investment properties and to attend polo matches or attend far-right rallies in states you don’t represent and thinking it’s perfectly normal to bill taxpayers for over one thousand dollars a month on home internet, and only go “oh, whoops, totally missed that, I’ll be paying that back obviously just like I always intended to do” when the media and public point it out.

Oh, those adorably forgetful silly billies!

Gotta love ’em!

And under the current system that’s far from easy to do.

In fact, it’s almost like the politicians which benefit from the opacity of the reporting protocols and the time lag between claiming expenses and actually making that information part of the public record have some sort of motivation to maintain said system and stymie any change that might make it more transparent and accountable. Weird, eh?

Anyway: here’s an idea. Make polls do what we have to do: scrape the entitlements altogether and start making them claim back all their legitimate expenses.

After all, we’re required to justify every cent that we want to claw back from the ATO each year. If it’s so damn easy and reasonable to expect it of us, why do our representatives get a free ride?

After all, if pollies had to stump up for their own flights and then wait for the bureaucracy to reimburse them they might be a little less forgetful about whether this was for an official trip or a colleague’s 50th.

The NBN You Paid To Build Now Thinks You Should Pay A Bonus 'Netflix Tax' To Use It

You have to admire the sheer gall of the suggestion, at least.

The National Broadband Network has, at the time of writing, cost Australians $51 billion dollars, is running years behind schedule, and fulfilled every warning from tech experts about how the final version of it was in no way fit for purpose.

These warnings ranged from “this hybrid tech plan put forward by the Coalition is inadequate and will definitely not work” to “fibre to the node is like building a highway that feeds onto a single dirt track and will be a disaster” to a series of high-pitched screams.

Another satisfied NBN user!

And so, after this litany of triumphs, now NBN Co. have a suggestion: Australians should pay to use it, for it a third time.

See, if you’re on the NBN you’ve paid to build the thing through your taxes, and then you pay again every month to access it through your ISP. And NBN Co feel this means you’re freeloading on the network if you’re using in a way that involves the transfer of data.

Especially if you’re streaming television, you monster. And thus their suggestion is that they charge for a two-tier internet where you pay more for access to the “fast” internet that can supposedly handle streaming TV and other things like “everything”.

Just an example of the sort of quality premium content you’ll be able to access on NBN+!

Presumably this would a premium slugged onto Netflix et al and passed on to you via increased fees, and it this sounds familiar it’s because the US has been trying to do the same for years and has been prevented thus far only via a strong domestic campaign to maintain “net neutrality”.

That’s the idea that usable internet shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of the rich, especially if we’re going to see things like telemedicine become the norm, and also that the providers shouldn’t be monitoring what you use the internet for and blocking your access based on how much you’re paying them. 

The NBN, yesterday.

It’s enshrined in law in Canada and Europe, and it’ll surprise you not at all that it’s not protected here because that would require parliament to understand what an internet is.

Anyway, the NBN will be releasing their review of how much Australians should be paying to access their own asset in November. And if you’re feeling outraged, now is the time to get involved with groups like Digital Rights Watch.

Or, you know, get ready to enjoy standard NBN definition, where shows are a series of blurry, static images to which you provide your own commentary. GET READY FOR A GOLDEN AGE OF INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT!

If You Haven't Ever Changed Banks You're Definitely Paying A Hefty Can't-Be-Arsed Tax

But you can save yourself hundreds with a tiny bit of internet-time.

Banking is one of those things which is so damn boring that no-one especially wants to think about it for more time than is absolutely necessary.

Your pay goes in, your buying goes out, and unless something goes horribly wrong with either of those elements then for the most part people are happy to ignore the issue.

And banks know this.

“We banks are so sorry for the way we’ve treated you.”

They know that you don’t want to go through and change all your automatic payments. They know that you don’t want to have to remember another PIN or access code. They know what you don’t want to have to learn another institution’s netbanking layout.

And they’ve done tricky emotional things to you too that make you less likely to change banks, like sign you up when you were a kid so you associate the bank with bouncy cartoon characters and cool money boxes rather than eye-gouging fees.

It’s tragic, but true: the Dollarmites weren’t really your friends.

Here’s the thing that we all learned in the Royal Commission into the Financial Sector, though: wow, banks just hate your guts.

Once you’re a customer the aim is to shake you down for fees and charges, often opaque ones that you’d never notice, and assume that you won’t go “wait a second, I’m paying literally hundreds of dollars a year for the privilege of accessing my own money!”

And while the Royal Commission was very big on large corporations blaming “bad apples” within their banking culture and making showy apologies, there’s zero sign that they’ve decided to do right by the people who’ve been parking their money with them for years.

What we assume banks do at 5.01pm every day.

So: it’s time to do some searching around.

One big development in recent times is the emergence of online banks. The downside is that they don’t have shopfronts that you can go into in order to do things like deposit cheques not via post, for example, or discuss things face to face with a human.

However, if the lions share of your banking is pretty much done digitally – as is the case with most people – then it’s worth looking at them, since that’s where the lowest fees are. Often in the form of no fees at all – including at ATMs, or using your card overseas. That’s cash in your hand, right there.

And look how happy he is!

And don’t panic about going with a smaller bank: all Australian deposits are guaranteed by the government up to $250,000. And if you have more than that… um, why are you leaving it in a bank account? Don’t you have investments to leverage or something, Wealtho McMoneybags?

At the very least it’s worth doing a search and check what the likes of UBank or ING are offering their customers and then giving your current bank a call and saying “so, what will you offer me in order to keep me as a customer?” And don’t hang up until you have some fees waived.

Because they’re not going to offer it just out of the goodness of their record year on year profits (and misleading claims about where said profits end up), that’s for sure.

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