Foreign Minister Julie Bishop does not live with her ‘boyfriend’, the pharmacist, winery owner and property developer David Panton, so she does not call him her ‘partner’, just like Barnaby Joyce did with the pregnant Vikki Campion. Bishop is based in Perth, while Panton is based in Sydney. This allows Julie Bishop to avoid listing his assets on her parliamentary register of interests. As a consequence, any complimentary travel, hospitality or flight upgrades he may have received while travelling with her around Australia or overseas does not need to be disclosed. In addition, details of his business interests and property holdings, which are considerable, are also not disclosed1.
Bishop nominated Panton as her ‘designated family member’ in 2015, which entitles him to free domestic airfares and Comcar rides. Indeed, in the first six months of 2015, Panton claimed nearly $10,000 in flights and car rides to and from Perth. They attended the Leeuwin Estate Concert for which Bishop declared that she had received free tickets on her register of interests1.
So, although he is a ‘designated family member’, he is not her partner. This is a lurk, seemingly just to get out of having a complete register of interests. In addition to having an enormous salary as foreign minister (Bishop gets over $350,000 per annum), she has all her travel paid for (Bishop spent $300,000 in 2016)2. Our current crop of politicians are past masters at rorting the travel and allowances systems, as I have related before3,4. They are also past masters at pretending they have no conflict of interest, as exemplified by their unwillingness to do anything about negative gearing when the large majority of them benefit enormously from its resultant tax breaks5.
Why does this loophole exist? Because politicians make their own rules. Some time ago, I spent 6 weeks on the other side of the continent on business. If my spouse had wanted to come with me, we would have had to pay for that extra airfare ourselves; something we could not afford. I’m sure that if I was allowed to make my own rules, it would have been well within them for my organisation to pay for the extra airfare.