Public servants are being paid hundreds of dollars a year to give up smoking or buy new sneakers as part of a "Healthy Lifestyle" payment.
The "Healthy Lifestyle" payment, also called a "Lifestyle contribution", is a staff benefit that allows public sector employees to claim money for maintaining a healthy work life balance.
"So you have to demonstrate that you have joined a gym, but not demonstrate that you have attended the gym?" Liberal senator Dean Smith queried when he learned of the payment in Senate estimates on Monday.
Yes, as it turns out.
Quitting-smoking programs can also be reimbursed, Marco Spaccavento from the Australian Public Service Commission confirmed.
"How do we actually assess whether somebody gave up smoking?" Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie asked.
"I'm not sure," Spaccavento replied.
Spaccavento says the popularity of payments wasn't based on any data that the public sector was becoming unhealthy, but arose out of enterprise bargaining.
He said swimming lessons or buying a dog "most probably" wouldn't be covered.
What else can staff claim? It differs across departments, as does the amount you can claim. Some agencies offer a one-off single payment and others require staff to supply to receipts before receiving reimbursement.
Treasury is one of the most generous departments. It offers staff a single payment of a $600 "Lifestyle contribution" each calendar year to "contribute to maintaining a healthy lifestyle".
The Royal Australian Mint pays $250 per financial year to employees to "help meet the costs of activities and/or equipment that assists them to maintain a healthy lifestyle".
The Mint also has a budget of $50 per employee to pay for professional providers to host a range of in-house activities to help maintain "employee health, wellbeing and fitness".
One public servant told BuzzFeed News that under the current enterprise bargaining agreement, the Department of Agriculture offers a $300 payment to any employee who shows an interest in getting healthy.
"It's amazing how many Fitbits get bought at the end of March," they joked.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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