The travel rorts probe into Wilson Tuckey and Winston Crane continue to rage in the WA Liberal party as our Perth experts in the Liberal Federal Secretariat continue to undermine their Sandgroping brethren ahead of likely Federal intervention.

If Prime Minister Howard ever believed that the Australian Federal Police investigation into Wilson Tuckey’s aircraft charter use was going to be wrapped up quickly, it seems he was badly mistaken.

Two Canberra based officers of the AFP were in Perth again last week interviewing present and past staff from Tuckey’s electorate office. All but two former staff have now been interviewed. It is not known whether Tuckey’s wife has been interviewed. Mrs Tuckey helped to put bread on the family table by working in Tuckey’s electorate office on the public pay role for a number of years.

This investigation is becoming very extensive and has a distance to go before the file is either written off or handed over to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his determination.

It seems that no decision as to whether charges are to be laid is likely to be made until well into January. The AFP inquiries centre in large part around the frequent flyer reward scheme that operated between the air charter company and federal members of parliament.

Presumably the police will be interested in establishing who paid the 30 percent reward and whether it was used for personal or constituent purposes within the members electorates.

Tuckey has admitted privately that he did receive a few free trips. What that means and how these free trips occurred is not clear. Crikey certainly does not suggest that there was anything improper or unlawful in them or that anything untoward should be construed from Tuckey’s statement.

Tuckey’s office has previously claimed that one flight in particular to Kalgoorlie for the races during the time he was the President of the Western Australian Turf Club was inadvertently charged to taxpayers through an electorate staff error, rather than to the Turf Club members.

The trip to the Kalgoorlie races perhaps invites a few questions. Was it normal practice for the Chairman of the Turf Club to charge the Turf Club for charter flights to country race meetings? Did Mr Tuckey take any Liberal Party people with him on that trip? Was it the habit of previous or subsequent WA Turf Club Chairmen to travel to country races in charter aircraft? In the case of Kalgoorlie, commercial flights are about one third of the cost of a private charter but you do only get the one seat.

Did Mr Tuckey charge any other flights to the Turf Club, who authorised them and were these authorised prior to the flight? The answer to these questions will presumably confirm whether it was normal practice for Mr Tuckey to charge the race club for such trips or whether they were paid for by other means.

Mr Tuckey’s claim that the Turf Club was responsible for the cost of at least one charter flight will be of interest to the owners and trainers. Tuckey was particularly diligent in cutting costs at the Turf Club during his short but tumultuous period as Chairman. In one notorious confrontation with the trainers he cut off the water to their hose because he claimed they were wasting too much water while washing down their horses.

However this investigation is resolved, it is not going to be a bowl of cherries for the Prime Minister.

December 17 update

During the week Crikey received an email from Senator Crane which we gladly published. Senator Crane took issue with our interpretation of how the frequent flyer rewards scheme which is now subject to police investigation, appeared to operate.

Senator Crane informed Crikey in his email that he “paid the commercial rate and was then granted a further 30 per cent flying time at no additional cost.” As Crikey originally reported, that does not accord with our understanding of the scheme however we are prepared to stand corrected.

A copy of one of the alleged travel documents that Senator Lightfoot handed over to then Western Australian State President David Johnston, who subsequently dumped Crane from his Senate spot and took it himself, has now been sighted by Crikey. This document is one of those that found its way into the hands of the Australian Federal Police.

The document is allegedly a list of charter flights undertaken by Senator Crane from December 1994 through to 1996. It has the appearance of having been prepared by an aircraft charter company for Senator Crane’s office and has a note on it to the effect that it has been reconciled with a then member of Senator Crane’s staff.

The headings on the document are: Flight date, departure and destination points, aircraft call sign, invoice total, charter cost, 30% credit and total credit.

The “invoice total” equals the cost of the charter plus the 30 per cent credit. In other words, the amount submitted for payment according to this document, includes the value of the reward.

The figure shown under “charter cost” is 70 per cent of the invoice total. The figure shown under “30% credit” is 30 per cent of the total invoice.

The figures shown under the “total credit” are the running aggregate totals of the rewards accumulating after each flight. Where the rewards are redeemed, the credit is reduced by the value of the flight. The amount debited is in each case, the equivalent of that shown as the “charter cost”.

Consequently, according to this document, the client can obtain redemption flights at 70 per cent of the real cost of the flight, a most generous reward scheme. It would be akin to obtaining frequent flyer points while redeeming them.

Commercial rates typically charged by charter aircraft operators at the relevant times were approximately in line with the amount shown in this document as the “charter cost” and not the “invoice total”.

According to advice from the industry, in the event a charter company was charging the “charter cost” rates as shown in the document, in the mid 90s, in what was then and continues to be an extremely competitive industry, it is highly improbable that an operator could afford to give clients a 30 per cent discount.

Crikey does not and cannot swear to the authenticity of this document, however in the event that it has been fabricated to harm Senator Crane, which is entirely possible in the sordid and squalid affairs of the Western Australian Liberal Party, the author of the document has gone to a great deal of trouble to do so.

The document is hand written, contains a great deal of alleged detail, identifies aircraft which are operated by Ad Astral Aviation, the company which Senator Crane uses and the figures have been calculated to the last cent.

While on the subject of the WA Libs, Crikey received a mention in dispatches at last weekend’s State Council meeting of the Western Australian Liberal Party.

One of the delegates drew the meeting’s attention to the considerable publicity that the Western Australian Liberal Party was receiving on Crikey and the embarrassment that was causing the party.

Justice Minister Senator Ellison jumped to his feet from the front of the gathering and drawing upon all the indignation and outrage that he could muster, declared to the assembled throng that in the event he discovered the culprit who had provided Crikey with the information, he would immediately sue the villain.

We are not sure whether Senator Ellison was referring to our reference to his well documented repayment to the taxpayers of $10,135 for taking unauthorised passengers on his charter aircraft which he was using to travel to Liberal Party functions.

It may have been our reference to the briefing his office gave to the media about the virtues of his mate, ministerial aspirant, Senator Campbell and the demerits of Cambell’s competition, Julie Bishop and Wilson Tuckey.

Perhaps it was our report of his part in shafting Senator Crane and attempting to do the same to Senator Lightfoot that excited Senator Ellison.

Whatever be the case, we are pleased to know that the Justice Minister has become a devotee of Crikey and we promise to give him a continuing interest.

Update from December 12

In a further development to the ongoing police investigation into Wilson Tuckey’s use of taxpayer funded charter aircraft in Western Australia, Canberra based officers of the Australian Federal Police made their second visit to Perth last week.

As well as interviewing Tuckey and Senator Crane, the AFP were intending to interview both past and present staff of Wilson Tuckey and Senator Crane. No doubt that would have given the new Mrs Lightfoot the third, an opportunity to renew acquaintances. Mrs Lightfoot is a former employee of Senator Crane whose staff she left in less than happy circumstances.

AFP officers conducted a very lengthy interview with Norman Haywood, Tuckey’s long time employee and confidant who is now Tuckey’s chief of staff. Haywood has complained of the enormous stress the police interview placed on him and has questioned how much more of it he can take.

The AFP have notified other previous staff members that they are required to make themselves available for police interviews.

It is rumoured that the office of the Minister for Finance and Administration, Senator Minchin is of the view that Tuckey should be cut adrift. Minchin is the senior Minister with responsibility for members entitlements.

The Tuckey travel investigation poses something of a conundrum for Howard. The last thing Howard will want at the beginning of his third term is a Minister with any baggage and he knows whatever the outcome of this matter, Labor will insist that all Tuckey’s relevant travel documentation be tabled in the parliament.

On the other hand, Howard will not be keen to lose a Minister even before he is sworn in. Having lost a number of Ministers and parliamentary secretaries early in his Prime Ministership, Howard drew the line when John Moore got into difficulties and has grimly held the line on every other occasion that the proprietary and conduct of his Ministers has come under question.

The further question is to what extent axing Tuckey will impinge on the Ministerial line up? Howard has made a complete swap of portfolios between Tuckey in Forestry and Conservation and Queensland Senator Ian MacDonald in Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, except that MacDonald’s old portfolio has been gutted and the meat of it passed over to John Anderson. No doubt this was compensation to the National Party for losing a portfolio and an attempt to give the Nats more clout in the bush.

The switch between Tuckey and MacDonald was obviously because of what many saw as the hash Tuckey made of his portfolio. MacDonald is well regarded by those who were effected by his portfolio responsibilities and he is viewed as having done a good job.

Tuckey’s new responsibilities if he ever gets sworn in are little more than public relations between the federal government and local government. What a sixty six year old man with appalling inter-personal skills has to offer other than to save choosing another no hoper from Western Australia, is difficult to fathom.

If Tuckey does fall on his sword, MacDonald will have lost a portfolio which he obviously enjoyed and which he did well and someone else will inherit a nothing portfolio: All for nought.

Earlier update published on December 3

There has been a flurry of activity within the government since it became public last week that the Australian Federal Police are investigating Wilson Tuckey’s use of taxpayer funded charter aircraft.

If John Howard and Wilson Tuckey knew nothing of it previously, their Western Australian federal colleagues, the Department of Finance and Administration, the Director of Public Prosecution and the Australian Federal Police certainly did.

Things certainly moved after Howard disclosed that Tuckey’s reappointed to the Ministry was subject to clearance by the AFP in this matter.

Australian Federal Police officers from Canberra made a lightening visit to Perth last weekend, principally to interview Mr Tuckey for the first time in the three year inquiry. The timing of this interview was not in the normal course of the AFP’s investigations, following the culmination of inquiries by the investigating officers. Its timing was politically inspired. Why it took so long is another matter.

There is increasing disquiet at the operational level of the AFP that the force has become a political football in inquiries effecting members of parliament. Some officers are concerned that there is the appearance that the force is being called on to either nail or exonerate parliamentarians depending upon the politics of the situation.

Information which attracted the interest of the AFP in the Tuckey case was discovered in the material seized under warrant in the Crane investigation as far back as December 1998.

There was a delay in progressing the Tuckey matter while Crane contested the validity of the warrants, however that issue was resolved months ago. There is speculation that the Crane matter has dragged on for so long because Tuckey has been ensnared in it. Crane now claims to anybody who will listen that his matter has been resolved, he has been exonerated and the case is closed. It is not a view publicly expressed by the AFP but coppers don’t say much at the best of times anyway.

Crane’s latest attempt to prise from the immediate past president of the Western Australian Liberal Party, Mr David Johnston, the documents which prompted the police inquiry has again received a rebuff. The documents in question which are photocopies of Crane’s alleged charter travel arrangements, apparently made and taken from Crane’s office without Crane’s knowledge or authority, were given to Johnston by Senator Lightfoot.

Initially Johnston promised to give the documents to Crane, then claimed he had mislaid them and now has had his lawyer write to Crane demanding that he explain for what purpose Crane wants them back.

Given that the documents were allegedly stolen from Crane’s office by persons unknown and that they are the basis of a police investigation into him which has included raids on his office and his home, the reasons for his request should be elementary even to a lawyer of Mr Johnston’s talents.

It will be recalled that Justice Minister Senator Ellison and his colleague Senator Ian Campbell dumped Crane from the Senate ticket and replaced him with Johnston. Their further attempt to also dump Lightfoot failed, however he was relegated to what was then the very doubtful third position. Johnston won the second spot.

Part of the Crane inquiry is centred on a charter company extending a form of reward incentive except at first blush it appears the reward comes from the taxpayers and not the charter company.

The incentive scheme appears to work this way although Crikey has not put this directly to the Federal coppers or the politicians involved yet. If a politician charters to Kalgoorlie for instance, he will be charged $1000, the cost of the charter plus a further 30 percent loading. The latter figure is credited by the charter company to the parliamentarian’s account, to which the parliamentarian then has free access for his future personal use. The department is presented with an invoice for $1300 shown as the cost of the charter and certified accordingly by the parliamentarian.

However, Senator Crane has written to Crikey explaining the scheme as follows:

“The previous paragraph implies that the Loyalty Bonus scheme was a 30% loading on top of the commercial rate. In fact, the opposite was the case. I paid the commercial rate that, let’s say was $1,000. I was then granted a further 30% flying time at no additional cost.”

Official invoices also appear to have been provided by the charter company for flights which did not take place in substitution for flights to other destinations which did take place.

As for Senator Crane’s charter arrangements, he is reported in the Australian Financial Review as saying that “the effect of using the bonus (points system) was that it increased by 30 per cent my flying hours, which was to the benefit of my Western Australian constituency and that I absolutely refute that I’ve used it for personal purposes.”

Senator Crane has also written to Crikey about this paragraph saying the following:

“You further state that the travel incentive scheme offered by the airline provided travel for personal use. This is not so. Any travel provided was for official use. Further, a spokesman for the Special Minister of State has been quoted as stating that the general principle that applied was that it was permissible when used to defray the cost to the public of additional travel by the member or senator.”

Who devised this “frequent flyer points” system is in question as is the extent to which it has been utilised by members of the State or Federal parliaments.

Coincidently, Senator Ellison was the Special Minister for State with responsibilty for parliamentarians entitlements at the time the AFP began its investigation of Crane and Tuckey. His Department was aware of the inquiries. As Minister for Justice, he has represented the Attorney General in the Senate during the balance of the investigations.

As is the way in the West, this issue is full of ironies. David Jull was sacked as Minister for Administrative Services for not knowing what his department was doing; Ellison was promoted. Peter McGauran was sacked for carting National Party delegates around in taxpayer funded charter aircraft; Ellison carted Liberal Party delegates around including an occasion when he did not even bother to accompany the aircraft, paid the money back and all was forgiven.

Perhaps the most exquisite irony is that Ellison as the responsible Minister, in late 1999 abolished the parliamentary watch dog committee which was set up to oversee parliamentary travel. Lightfoot was the chairman.

Campbell in particular will be taking more than a casual interest in Mr Tuckey’s welfare. Campbell believed he was a monty to go into the Ministry on the last occasion when Tuckey was appointed and he sees himself as the obvious choice if Tuckey falls over now.

Will Charles Wilson Tuckey break Glenister Sheil’s record?

Previous update posted in late November

Things just go from bad to worse amongst the Western Australian federal Liberal members of parliament. Now Wilson Tuckey, the man who once bragged that he had lied to the media, is under investigation for alleged travel irregularities.

The Government has conveyed the impression that this investigation into Tuckey’s travel is relatively recent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tuckey came to the attention of the Australian Federal Police following its raid on the premises of Western Australian based air charter company, Ad Astral in December 1998. At the time the AFP were executing a search warrant in respect to alleged travel irregularities of his Western Australian colleague, Senator Winston Crane.

Tuckey uses Ad Astral almost exclusively for all of his charter travel in Western Australia and he has introduced other federal and State members of parliament to the company. One such member was Crane. Ad Astral offers a curious frequent flyer point system to some of its parliamentary clients.

Senator Alan Eggleston, another Western Australian Senator, has claimed in the past that he was approached by someone to use Ad Astral and obtain the benefits of this frequent flyer program, but declined.

Inquiries into both the Crane and Tuckey matters have been delayed by Crane’s applications to the federal court seeking a declaration that the documents seized under warrant were subject to parliamentary privilege. That matter was finally resolved by the Senate itself some months ago.

The Australian Federal Police have also privately complained that the Department of Finance and Administration has been less than helpful in providing them with documentation in respect to both Crane and Tuckey.

The media has reported that one of the charter trips undertaken by Tuckey which is subject to investigation was to Kalgoorlie for the races. Tuckey was at the time the President of the Western Australian Turf Club although he has since been dumped from that position for what some members describe as his volatile and erratic behaviour.

The trip to Kalgoorlie was neither for electorate purposes nor in his electorate of O’Connor. A spokesman for Tuckey is reported in the media as saying that there was a mistake with the paper work and that the taxpayers were billed by error.

Under the strict procedures of Members and Senators charter entitlements, parliamentarians must personally certify each account and declare that the charter was within their electorate and undertaken for the purpose of electorate duties. Whether Tuckey certified the accounts and if not, as his spokesman appears to claim, why the Department paid the accounts are yet to be revealed.

Given the abundant caution with which Howard normally proceeds in such matters, it can only be assumed that for him to appoint Tuckey to the Ministry subject to police clearance, Howard has been given a very clear signal that the AFP investigation will come to nothing. The AFP is the most politicised law enforcement agency in Australia, however there is no suggestion that it has been less than diligent in this operation so far.

Given that Tuckey has been a subject of interest to the police since early 1999, it is surprising that he only alerted Howard of the AFP interest in him on Thursday, coincidently the day Howard settled his new Ministry. Perhaps it is that the AFP are acutely politically aware and assuming that Tuckey was going to be re-appointed, they notified him for the first time of their inquiries on Thursday.

Normal practice for the Australian Federal Police when investigating members of parliament and Ministers in particular is for the Commissioner to inform the Attorney General. There are for the moment some imponderable questions.

Why Crane’s electorate office and home were searched under warrant and Tuckey’s were not, when the Attorney General learnt of the Tuckey investigation and when Tuckey first learnt of the investigation are all mysteries. No doubt all will be revealed in due course.

There must be something in the water in the West. Western Australian Senator, Justice Minister Senator Chris Ellison has also previously run into trouble with his charter travel. Following freedom of information revelations, Ellison repaid $1072 four days prior to the October, 1998 federal election and after further investigations repaid an additional amount of $9063.

Senator Ellison had used charter flights to ferry party voters to Liberal Party conferences. It is at these conferences that delegates to the Senators’ preselections are elected. It is always wise to have your own supporters there and voting.

Ellison, a lawyer himself and Special Minister of State with responsible for parliamentary members entitlements at the time he made the repayments, claimed that the guidelines which specifically restricted passengers on these charter flights to family and staff, were ambiguous and he had misinterpreted them. Lets hope that as Minister for Justice his law and reading of simple English have both improved.

ends

Now, this one was sent to subscribers before Howard announced his new Ministry.

The dumping of Senator Crane

The complicated events of treachery and intrigue in the ranks of the Western Australian Liberal Senators have turned positively nasty. The Minister for Justice, Senator Ellison and his factional colleague, Senator Campbell, have been successful in ending the political career of their colleague, Senator Crane. With their vigorous efforts he was dropped down to the unwinable fourth position on the Senate ticket.

Crane’s position was not helped by the fact that he is under investigation by the Australian Federal Police for allegations of travel irregularities. A copy of the documents that triggered the police investigation was handed by Senator Lightfoot to the President of the WA Liberal Party, Mr David Johnston. The documents given to Johnston by Lightfoot were photocopies of travel related documents from Crane’s office.

In another twist, the new Mrs Lightfoot previously worked for Crane before taking up with Lightfoot and getting a job in his office. It is not alleged that she had anything to do with these documents.

Crane has never been given the documents by the Liberal Party and apparently he does not know which ones they are. His attempts to get copies of them from Johnston have so far failed.

How Lightfoot got the documents and how they fell into the hands of the AFP is a mystery. There is no suggestion that Johnston gave them to the AFP.

What we do know is that Johnston, supported by Ellison and Campbell, stood for the Senate and defeated Crane. Crane appealed his demotion with Ellison and Campbell promising support and funding. Their agenda was to keep Johnston in and to kick Lightfoot out. In the end they did nothing and Crane, betrayed for a second time, was unsuccessful.

Crane retaliated and sent out 700,000 letters telling the voters to put him number one. Now there are plans afoot to have him expelled from the Party for doing so. There are also whispers of Lightfoot being expelled for his veiled threat to stand for One Nation when he thought Crane’s appeal was likely to succeed.

Lightfoot on the other hand has now written to the Liberal Party threatening that if he does not receive an apology from it, he will resign from the Party and sit on the cross benches. Lightfoot is rightly, highly indignant that the Liberal Party agreed to have a photograph of his ex-lover Julie Bishop on the National Party Senate How to Vote Card which was distributed in her seat of Curtin and which had him placed at the bottom of the Liberal team.

This was an obvious attempt by Lightfoot’s own party to have him dumped out of the Senate in favour of the National Party candidate. It seems implausible that this did not have the imprimatur of the national campaign body. What a happy lot of campers.

ends

Now, this is what we sent around to subscribers about the WA Libs shortly after the federal election.

Open warfare amongst WA Libs

Open warfare and internal machinations continue to flourish among the Western Australian Liberal federal members of parliament.

Senator Ellison’s office is running hard for Ellison’s mate, Senator Ian Campbell to be included in the new Howard Ministry, having as a parliamentary secretary been passed over a record 13 times so far.

The obvious competition is from Peter Costello’s cheer leader, Julie Bishop. Costello referred to her at one of her fund raisers in Perth as a Bishop today and a Cardinal of the future.

That was of course before she agreed to abandon federal politics for the promise by Court of his safe State seat of Nedlands and the Leadership of the State Liberal Party. That fell apart when Bishop having allowed Court to go public on the deal, took a beating in the press, lost her nerve and left Court holding the bag.

Bishop defeated Alan Rocher in Curtin at the 1998 election, at which time Rocher was an Independent. Howard and Rocher being great mates, Howard fought valiantly to prevent Bishop being preselected in 1998 because he was attempting to have Rocher readmitted to the Liberal Party as the sitting Liberal member. During his visits to Western Australia during the 1998 campaign Howard refused to campaign for Bishop while praising his mate Rocher.

When Rocher lost his preselection in 1996 and subsequently won as an Independent, Howard toyed with the idea of making him Speaker however the mere smell of the idea caused convulsions within the parliamentary party. As a consolation, Howard sent Rocher off to Los Angeles as the Australian consul-general following his defeat at the polls by Bishop in 1998.

Ellison’s office has been reminding Howard of these differences by telling the media that Bishop should not be in Curtin, that it is really Rocher’s seat and that she caused the Prime Minister great embarrassment by her comments about immigration numbers during the recent campaign. Anyway, his office says, she has not done her apprenticeship as a parliamentary secretary.

Just in case the Bishop scenario does not sell with Howard, Ellison’s office is happy to report that Tuckey’s appalling Ministerial performance warrants his sacking. Given that Tuckey spent almost the entire campaign in his own safe seat of O’Connor, it is obviously not a lone view.

Campbell did his own bit for the Party during the campaign by telling the Western Australian Liberal for Forest Senate candidate, Liz Davenport to put the infamous Senator Ross Lightfoot at the bottom of her ticket while finding a nice spot further up for the rest of the Liberal Senate ticket. She obliged!

For his part, Lightfoot is furious with the Liberal Party and his ex-live in partner, Julie Bishop for agreeing to have her sunny photograph on the National Party’s Senate How to Vote Card which was handed out at all her Curtin booths.. The National Party had changed the order of the Liberal Senate team and put Lightfoot last. This gesture could have been fatal to Lightfoot.

The contest for the third Senate position in Western Australia was between Lightfoot, Cowan, (The National Party candidate and ex Deputy Premier of Western Australia who retired to contest this election) and Graham Campbell for One Nation.

For their part, the Liberal Party and Bishop denied that they had given their approval but the State Director of the National Party publicly blew the whistle last week and told the whole story in the inscrutable way the Nats do when they want to do over the Libs.

Peter Fray

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