Comment: The time for accountability is now
THE most worrying aspect of the graceless, self-absorbed culturally insensitive Budgies Nine affair was that one of those involved was a policy adviser to the Australian Defence Industry Minister.
My first thought on hearing one of those arrested at the Malaysian Grand Prix, 26-year-old Jack Walker, filled what by title appears a senior and important role in our nation's security was to wonder at what skills someone of that age could bring to the role while remaining so unaware.
I'm grateful to Tony Abbott's former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, for enlightening me.
According to the woman who once controlled the Coalition Government with an iron will, Jack Walker was initially employed to answer the phones on Christopher Pyne's reception desk and fill in the ministerial diary.
"These are serious jobs," Ms Credlin told the Sky News Andrew Bolt program in what could only be described as an understatement.
Serious jobs indeed, but like the very concept of public service, it appears instead titles of government have more than a whiff of jobs for the boys.
I had a conversation this week with a former politician, recently departed the national stage, who lamented media only reported those who did the wrong thing with no focus on others who chose to take the cheapest option on flights to Canberra, whose family helped the business of government without being added to its pay roll and who didn't hit speed dial for a Com Car whenever they had to move more than five metres.
There's some truth in that but equally it's hard to ignore the elephants in the room.
The Australian Federal Police's admission former Fisher MP Peter Slipper's successful appeal against his conviction for misuse of travel entitlements signalled an end to such prosecution because it meant parliamentary business was whatever an MP said it was, leaves the ball clearly in parliament's court.
The charges the AFP chose to pursue on the former Speaker were selected from the many years of entitlement excess on his resume because they involved something definable, tangible and supported by hard evidence that did not rely on interpretation.
The trips to the wineries were not the issue - rather, that they had been disguised by travel vouchers which claimed shorter journeys within the confines of the Australian Capital Territory.
Mr Slipper had been repeatedly told by the Department of Finance to use the electronic payment system instead to allow an immediate and accurate record: advice he chose to ignore.
He can now claim he's been "cleared" and accurately that he is "not guilty", vindication of an extraordinary list of entitlement claims which in one year included $29,000 in taxi fees representing half the mean income of the average household in his electorate.
The public is clear it won't tolerate the "age of entitlement" being maintained for the select few in Canberra.
MPs are not completely deaf to that message and some Gold Pass entitlements for retired members have been scaled back this week.
But it should be a surprise to no one that Qantas, via its invite-only Chairman's Lounge with its continuous flow of free drinks and foods, is the biggest-single gift donor to our politicians.
In 2011, more than 3000 Sunshine Coasters signed a petition started by the Sunshine Coast Daily, calling for parliament to fully audit Mr Slipper's expense claims.
That never happened.
It also asked for the National Audit Office to oversee that process to assist with recommendations that may produce expenditure guidelines in line with community expectations.
That never happened.
And it also asked that expenditure provisions be tightened to require all Members to give full detail of the parliamentary or electoral business that led to an expense being incurred.
That never happened despite the National Audit Office on a number of occasions having declared it wanted rules tightened and scrutiny increased.
It came as no surprise to read the AFP has thrown its hands up in frustration, having come to the conclusion politicians have placed themselves if not above the law, then certainly outside it.
Perhaps with a new suite of representatives now in place, this region may be able to look to Team Sunshine Coast to take up the baton for greater accountability and restraint.
But somehow I doubt it.