APN data project exposes MPs misuse of expenses

APN data project exposes MPs misuse of expenses

A data journalism project by APN News and Media’s regional newspaper division has revealed federal politicians are exploiting taxpayer-funded mail entitlements for election campaigning.

The interactive project was launched as part of the rollout of Australian Regional Media’s digital subscription package.

It found that funds intended for regular communication of government programs in electorates were used by some MPs mostly at election time.

The data showed the MPs spent $19 million from the entitlement in addition to the $113 million taxpayers paid to cover their campaign costs during the 2010 and 2013 elections.

Bryce Johns, editorial director of ARM, has sent a submission to the government review of federal MPs entitlements on behalf of ARM with the information.

‘We’ve uncovered something that every taxpayer in this country should be concerned about’

“We’ve uncovered something that every taxpayer in this country should be concerned about,” Mr Johns said.

“Why some MPs would spend 90 per cent of their money in the six weeks leading up to an election rather than any time in the rest of the electoral cycle is a complete mystery to most people.”

Left: Front cover of The Observer. Right:

Left: Front cover of The Observer. Right: Page 6 of the Gladstone Observer

The interactive attracted around 10,000 hits in the first couple of weeks. “This is the sort of numbers we’d get for an emergency cyclone warning or a massive hailstorm hitting Brisbane,” Mr Johns said.

The project was conceived several months ago by Canberra reporter Daniel Burdon. It revealed 17 per cent of the $112 million politicians claimed on the entitlement was spent during the two six week elections campaign periods in 2010 and 2013.

Mr Burdon mined screeds of paper and online data to create spending profiles of federal MPs which are presented in interactive graphs that readers can use to compare the mail out entitlement claims of politicians from across Australia.

The project was launched to coincide with the rollout of ARM digital subscriptions and joins other data projects.

They include an interactive map tracking fatal car accidents in Queensland, a project that allows readers to compare their grocery prices with towns across the state, an investigative series on unsolved murders in the Toowoomba area and a project that tracked the amount of unclaimed superannuation in individual postcodes.

‘The point in doing this is to demonstrate to readers the added value that they get from having big news teams in our town, in our cities’

“The point in doing this is to demonstrate to readers the added value that they get from having big news teams in our town, in our cities,” Mr Johns said.

“Like any traditional media business we’re challenged by a number of revenue issues and we’ve just got to demonstrate and prove to readers what value we bring.”

Mr Johns is a former editor, content partnerships, at the APN-owned New Zealand Herald which recently launched a separate website to house all its data journalism and interactive projects.

Based off the momentum towards data-journalism Mr Johns experienced at New Zealand Herald, he intends to put increased focus on these types of projects.

APN’s central reporting team, Newsdesk, more than doubled in size about a year ago with the aim of accommodating more data-led journalism

“On any given day I’ve got journalists from around the state who are collating information on hospital admissions, around car crashes, around government spending, around building trends across the state and they suck this information in and we then break it down into the markets we operate in,” Mr Johns said.

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