Australian politics has been subjected to even more upheaval than usual lately with more than 10 politicians embroiled in the citizenship saga that has so far claimed our deputy prime minister, two Greens Senators, the Nationals deputy leader and a One Nation Senator.
Barnaby Joyce, Larissa Waters, Scott Ludlam, Fiona Nash and Malcolm Roberts were all found by the High Court to be in breach of Section 44 of the constitution, which stipulates that serving members of parliament must only hold an Australian citizenship.
These former serving members of parliament were deemed ineligible and forced to resign their positions effective immediately. While the punishment was swift, the repercussions for their illegal actions have been relatively small.
The Australian Financial Review reports that once an MP is disqualified they receive a letter from the Finance Department informing them of their debt and advising whether they have to pay it or apply for a waiver from the Special Minister for State.
So far, no MP or Senator has been ordered to repay their debt.
The average cabinet minister is paid $350,209 per year, while their opposition counterparts earn $253,775. Backbenchers take home about $203,020, while Joyce was earning about $$400,016 per year as deputy PM.
Add in travel allowances and accomodation expenses and the cash haul for these men and women was nothing to be sneezed at.
Despite the clear illegality of their positions there has been little talk of anyone having to pay back what they earned on the taxpayers’ dime.
This is in stark contrast to Australian voters on welfare system, who are swiftly ordered to pay back the cash if they are ever overpaid by Centrelink.
The same rules apply to any Australian overpaid by their employer; they must return the money.
While it’s clear the MPs and Senators caught up in the scandal were unaware of their citizenship status when elected, does ignorance exclude them from paying back taxpayer money that should never had been theirs in the first place?