Snouts in trough

By February 3, 2017Australian Politics

One of the most recent politicians to be caught with their snout in the taxpayer-funded trough is Sussan Ley (whose nicknames now include Sussan Ley-by and Sussan the Suss), who, on a taxpayer funded trip to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, on May 9, 2015, purchased a $795k apartment, reputedly in Main Beach. She stated that the purchase was “not planned or anticipated” and was bought on the spur of the moment. She was in Brisbane, in part, to announce about $1.3bn for new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme at Wesley Hospital in Auchenflower, Brisbane. That same day, it was stated she had meetings with ‘local health stakeholders’ on the Gold Coast, but did not say who those stakeholders were.

The apartment, which was bought as an investment property, was previously owned by Martin Corkery, a prominent businessman, director of Children First Learning Centres and Liberal National Party donor, having given the party $50k in June 2011. Corkery stated that he knew Ley through his lobbying for the child care industry, when it came under her portfolio while she was in opposition, and then when she was assistant minister.

Given that this hardly passes the ‘sniff test’, Ley has agreed to pay back the cost of the trip (about $3,000). In the past three years, Ley has travelled to the Gold Coast 20 times. These include $655 for a trip for New Year’s Eve in 2013. After New Year’s Eve 2014, she charged the taxpayer for her and her partner’s flights back to Sydney. The most expensive taxpayer-funded trip was one for $12,365 for a charter of a private jet from Canberra to the Gold Coast because commercial flights were not “appropriate” for her schedule.

The ABC put questions to Ley’s office regarding 18 trips, worth in total over $53k, but after declining an interview, her office issued a statement saying that “she is required to undertake extensive meetings with doctors, patients and other organisations that are not media or public events”. Ley has not revealed who those stakeholders were. On top of this, it has been discovered that Ley’s partner, Graham Johnston owns a bin-cleaning business on the Gold Coast.

After more pressure from the news media, Ley had agreed to step aside while an investigation is conducted by Martin Parkinson, the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. However, the pressure on the government increased when more rorts were revealed and Ley was forced to resign.

It has been revealed by the Guardian, that Ley had secured finance several months before she bough the $795k property, although the property was not specified on the finance approval. So, to say this apartment was bought on the spur of the moment, is disingenuous at best.

Others to be nailed in recent years include:

Stuart Robert, who flew to China for the signing of a mining deal involving Nimrod Resources, a company part owned by prominent Liberal party donor Paul Marks. Robert owns shares in a company that owns part of Nimrod. He was forced to repay about $1500 he received for a visit to the gold mine, owned by Nimrod. He also had to pay back about $350 he charged the taxpayer to attend MP Stephen Iron’s wedding.

Stephen Irons slugged taxpayers about $2,300 for flights to attend his own wedding. He paid the money back, maintaining that it was claimed in error. In 2013, it was reported that he spent about 120 nights in Melbourne and more than 15 in Adelaide over a couple of years. His son Jarrad played for part of that time with the Port Adelaide AFL team.

Scott Morrison was also found to have slugged taxpayers $350 for an extra night on a trip to Melbourne to allow him to attend Irons’ wedding. Morrison stated to shock jock Ray Hadley, that he thought the hotel accommodation was free. However, Morrison’s office later received a bill from Crown, and paid it with Morrison’s credit card, including the extra day for the wedding. Morrison paid the $350 back.

Barnaby Joyce claimed $650 to attend the wedding of broadcaster Michael Smith in 2011. In the same year, he also claimed about $5,500 in overseas study allowances to attend a wedding in India to which he had been flown by private jet at the invitation of Gina Rinehart. The $5,500 was actually for a flight back from Kuala Lumpur to Australia for Joyce and his wife, after he had been ‘dropped off’ in KL by private jet. He maintained that the study in Malaysia was only of one day’s duration and involved meeting government officials for the afternoon. Joyce also slugged taxpayers for $3,600 worth of flights for him and his wife to Perth, the day before they were flown to Hyderabad in India by Rinehart. His office stated that he had several meetings with Senate colleagues and business people in Perth that day, but the spokeswoman refused to say who those colleagues and business people were.

Barnaby Joyce slugged the taxpayer for over $18,000 for travelling to Armidale and Tamworth, while he was a Queensland senator preparing to jump to the lower house seat of New England. He also used a VIP RAAF jet for himself and four staff to fly from Tamworth to Canberra after attending a televised debate against his opponent, Tony Windsor. This flight is estimated to have cost over $20,000. Needless to say, it was within the rules. However, Joyce declined to say what official duties had been undertaken in Armidale and Tamworth on the dates in question.

Barnaby Joyce chartered a helicopter, at a cost to taxpayers of about $4,000 to take him to the small town of Drake, in northern New South Wales. The town is about a four hour drive from Joyce’s home in Tamworth and about a 40 minute drive from his second electorate office in Tenterfield. While in Drake, he ‘launched’ a Telstra mobile tower, visited a school and a blueberry farm. It was his second chopper ride to the township in a year.

Teresa Gambaro was also invited and flown to the Indian wedding by Gina Rinehart, and claimed overseas study allowances while there, to the tune of about $3,500.

Julie Bishop was another invited and flown to the Indian wedding by Gina Rinehart, and she also claimed overseas study allowances while there, to the tune of about $3,500, which was for the flight home from Hyderabad.

Bronwyn Bishop infamously paid $5,200 back to the taxpayer after chartering a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal Party fundraising event. She has also claimed for flights to the wedding of former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, and travelling allowance for the wedding of former Liberal National MP Teresa Gambaro. It cost Bronwyn Bishop her preselection and she was forced to retire.

Tony Abbott had to repay $1700 after claiming entitlements to attend the weddings of Sophie Mirabella as well as former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper. In addition, the publishers of Abbott’s book paid back $9,400 in travel expenses that Abbott had claimed while promoting the book.

Sam Dastyari quit the front bench over revelations he allowed a company with links to the Chinese Government to pay a $1600 bill he incurred over his travel budget.

Joe Hockey bought an investment property in Canberra and claims $270 per night to stay in this, a home he owns. He also charges other MPs rent when they stay at the place.

The biggest rort of all is one which allows parliamentarians to fly their families, both partners and children, in business class to accompany them while on ‘official business’. The cost of this to the taxpayer was some $1.3 million. Some of those who stand out in this rort are Labor MPs Tony Burke, for a family trip to Uluru, and Brendan O’Connor for a trip to Cairns, and Peter Dutton, Christopher Pyne and former Treasurer, Joe Hockey.

There is no way that a public servant would be allowed to take any member of their family on an official trip at taxpayers’ expense. To fly anywhere as a public servant, you have to get at least two levels of approval for the trip to actually happen, then you have to give precise times of departure and arrival, in both directions. If you stay in a motel, the tariff is paid by taxpayers, but if you stay anywhere privately (with friends, colleagues, or those you visit), no accommodation allowance can be claimed. If you arrive back earlier than expected, you are supposed to pay back any difference in allowances. If a public servant was found to be claiming allowances to which they were not entitled, they would not simply be able to pay the money back, as politicians seem to be able to do. Instead, there would be severe penalties, up to loss of a job.

To say that parliamentary travel allowances are a rort is a massive understatement. These rorts will continue forever, despite all sorts of reviews promised and undertaken by Abbott and Turnbull, because the parliamentarians make their own rules. It has to stop.

The bogus claims about meeting business people and colleagues also has to stop. It is as clear as a bell that some of these ‘meetings’ are designed solely to allow the politician to claim the cost of the trip from you and me, the poor bloody taxpayer.


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