I MUST confess to an old idiosyncratic and half joking tendency to buy something whenever I got bored, until I discovered that in some jobs you can catch a plane.
In a past life as a political minder I had a gracious meeting with the gravy plane. This is a shuttle affair with the airlines, made available to the office of all federal politicians, where the taxpayer paid your travel from A to B. For staff this usually involved up to 20 return trips a year to Canberra.
For the MPs this usually involved unlimited return trips to the moon.
All you had to do was come up with justification. If you put down "wedding" the red flag would wave in front of the fun police at the Finance Department and you'd get a bill. But, if you put - "Noosa, meeting local mayor and chamber of commerce. Attend local school BER meeting (or) Roads to Recovery stakeholders meeting," you could pack the beach towels, and get to the wedding.
To be fair I should say that I used to work for an MP who was so straight-laced he'd pay back oxygen.
Travel Allowance, known throughout the universal public sector as TA, was the exquisite fresh cream, lavished on the black forest cake of travel. You get to stay in Sydney on expenses of $372 a night.
When you booked return flights to Canberra you would then put in a claim for TA, and even before the seat belt light flickered in Canberra air space - kerching! The $3000 in loot for a fortnight sitting would perform a textbook landing into your bank account. No crosswinds. No turbulence.
Don't get me wrong, after the novelty wore off from jetting off to your job, the travel routine degenerated into an arm- wrestling, jostling, body odour, sweaty, stressful routine of rushing between airline gates at 7am and surviving cattle class. That was the lot of the average staffer.
For MPs it was complementary lounge membership, free grog, free food and automatic upgrade to business class. Years ago at Sydney Airport I watched an interstate MP remonstrate with check-in staff because the MP was too late for a business class seat.
The fun police and their former minister shut down the Frequent Flyer-Velocity Points rort, where every time you flew at taxpayers' expense you'd accumulated points, which could be used privately once you retired or resigned. Kerching, kerching, kerching.
Some veteran MPs would leave politics with millions of points for a retirement of free travel. If they served 20 years they could add the Life Gold Pass, comprising 25 return business class trips a year to anywhere within Australia.
Last year they reduced it to 10 trips a year and closed it off to new MPs elected last month. But, notice that it's still there.
A great rort was the weekend TA. Rather than fly you home at the weekend between a sitting fortnight the fun police would pay you three nights weekend TA.
It was cheaper than a return flight. A win-win, and I loved Canberra.
The War Memorial, Batemans Bay, National Gallery, Sydney, High Court, National Archives, the very best restaurants in Manuka and Kingston, karaoke at the Holy Grail, the famous Portia's restaurant, and you could see them all, on expenses at the rate of $260 a night.
Where does this little expose go?
Well, the Abbott government's mini-scandal over doubtful travel claims is travel rorting. Those caught out were dumb enough to be honest with the reasons for the claim.
All you need do is add a tiny hint of work associated with the trip and you could fly endlessly at the taxpayers' expense, and only land for the parliamentary sitting schedule.
At least the staff travel budget is capped.
The $40 million a year travel budget for our 226 federal MPs is crowned in the glory of privilege.
Barry Prismall is deputy editor of The Examiner.