A significant majority of South Australians want public disclosure of each state MP’s salary and benefits, and penalties for those who overclaim, according to polling conducted by progressive think tank the Australia Institute.

The survey found 72 per cent of respondents supported having the full salary and benefits paid to each State MP listed publicly, while 88 per cent supported tougher penalties for MPs who were found to have incorrectly claimed benefits and received public money that they were not entitled to.

The margin of error for the weighted online poll of 510 South Australians was 4.3 per cent.

It was conducted by Dynata between July 23 and 27, in the immediate aftermath of the resignations of a series of government officeholders, including three ministers, amid a deepening perks scandal.

Two of those former ministers and a third Liberal MP have agreed to repay more than $70,000 in Country Members Accommodation Allowance after an ABC investigation prompted the public release of a decade’s worth of claims.

All have denied intentional wrongdoing.

The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Bruce Lander, is now reviewing all claims made by MPs for the Country Members Accommodation Allowance since 2010.

Tim Whetstone, Stephan Knoll and David Ridgway all handed in their resignations last month.(ABC News/Facebook: @DavidridgwayMLC)

Low trust in politicians

The Australia Institute’s survey found just 31 per cent of respondents trusted their MPs to act honestly and transparently when claiming their salary and benefits.

But the level of trust was much higher among conservative voters, with almost half (47 per cent) per cent who indicated a preference for the Liberal or National parties saying they trusted politicians, compared to 31 per cent of Labor voters and 11 per cent of Greens voters.

A black and white photo of a man
The Australia Institute’s South Australian director, Noah Schultz-Byard.(Supplied)

“The research suggests that there is a significant trust deficit amongst South Australian voters when it comes to the actions of their MPs,” the Australia’s institute’s state director, Noah Schultz-Byard, said.

“The research shows that there is a desire for the penalties that are put upon MPs who are found to have done the wrong thing in certain circumstances to be increased.

Transparency needed, institute says

In the wake of the expenses scandal, Premier Steven Marshall said his Government had committed to publishing monthly the previously secret claims for Country Members Accommodation Allowance.

But Mr Schulz-Byard said voters should have access to a centralised database to see all payments made to MPs.

“It’s a complex and confusing area to find out the specifics of how one person is accessing their benefits or their level of pay,” he said.

“There are a range of different benefits and entitlements available to politicians depending on which houses of parliament they’re in, which part of the state they live in and also their responsibilities — whether that’s in the Cabinet or a member of a committee.”

Sunrise at low tide at Encounter Bay at Victor Harbor, 2013.
MPs who live in Victor Harbor can claim the Country Members Accommodation Allowance.(Supplied: Chris Kirby)

Mr Schulz-Byard insisted the Australia Institute was not making a case against the provision of allowances to MPs.

“We have to be clear here that it’s not a case of every politician being in it for themselves or all of them are dodgy — we’re not suggesting that,” he said.

“Being an MP can be a very hard and demanding job and its only right that they’re adequately compensated.

“The good thing about a transparent and effective system of accountability is that it would help to protect the vast majority of MPs who behave responsibly and do the right thing.”



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