The red face of Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon is plastered all across the Herald Sun
this morning, with the paper revealing that Lennon “enjoyed thousands
of dollars’ worth of free hospitality” at
Crown Casino after being given a free upgrade to a “luxurious six star
suite” during Melbourne’s spring carnival. So how many other politicians
are given, and don’t refuse, the VIP
treatment when they hit the hotel lobby? And how does this practice fit
in with the code of conduct?

In Lennon’s case, he’s in hot water for two reasons – firstly, Crown is owned by PBL, which has a half stake in Betfair
Australia, the controversial internet gambling venture that Lennon handed a $700 million
licence to just days after staying in the luxurious suite. The premier then denied in
Parliament that he’d received any free hospitality from Crown. He
released a statement a few hours later to clarify that he
hadn’t received any “inappropriate hospitality.”

taxpayers paid $200 a night for Mr Lennon’s room, reports the
paper, but “he stayed in a room worth as much as $4,000 a night – 20
times more than the mates’ rates paid.” The lucky premier sipped on
free French champagne, enjoyed the services of a private butler and
enjoyed free drinks and food in an exclusive VIP lounge.

A spokesperson from Crown told the Herald Sun that the upgrade “was
offered in line with established policy of the hotel where at various
times, when there is high demand for standard rooms, VIPs including
major corporate clients, celebrities, sport stars and senior political
figures are upgraded to free up cheaper rooms.”

Crikey rang around some
of the major hotels this morning to find out if they also offered VIP upgrades to politicians – they were
all pretty tight-lipped, but most agreed that it was standard hotel
practice to upgrade VIPs’ (including politicians) accommodation, subject
availability. So is there
any harm in MPs indulging in a free fluffy bath robe when it’s at the discretion of the hotel?

In Tasmania, according to the Parliamentary (Disclosure of Interests) Act
1996, “a Member isn’t required to disclose any gift received by the
Member if (a) the amount of the gift did not exceed $500.” Federally,
according to Deputy Clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing, senators are required to declare sponsored travel or
hospitality, or hospitality “gifts” over $300.

And the PM’s official “Guide on key elements of ministerial
responsibility,” elaborates for any ministers considering sampling the
penthouse suite’s forbidden fruit basket: “The distinction between
official and personal conduct
is not always
clear (eg, in relation to the provision of hospitality/entertainment
and use of
car transport) but ministers should ensure that their actions are
calculated to
give the public value for its money and never abuse the privileges
undoubtedly, are attached to ministerial office.”