Not too many people had a good day in Parliament yesterday.

Michael Ronaldson had a good get in Estimates, when he learnt that when Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd had travelled to the UK for the G20 meeting, four of their staff had travelled in first class with them, on the basis that they worked during the flight. He also used Estimates to prod further at the saga of exactly where Parliamentary Secretary Jan McLucas lived. Good stuff.

Unfortunately the execution left a little to be desired. A press release on McLucas was dispatched just before midday, which suggested Special Minister of State John Faulkner was furious at the Department of Finance:

28 May 2009

Department Reopens Investigation into McLucas Travel Allegations

The Department of Finance has agreed to reopen their investigation into Senator Jan McLucas’ travel allowance claims, following questioning from Senator Ronaldson in Estimates.

Senator Faulkner said, “I find it almost unbelievable that Finance closed down their original investigation without first ascertaining the most basic of facts: where does Senator McLucas actually live?

“After the recent serious allegations in the press, I would have thought that that was the first point to check: does she live in Cairns (where she spent 25 nights) or in Canberra (where she spent 144 nights) during a single six-month period?

“But it seems that an MP just has to assert something and it is taken as gospel truth by the Department.

MPs receive travel allowance based on the location of their “home base”, which is supposed to be their ‘principal place of residence’.

“But there is no checking, no evaluation – even when serious claims arise that MPs have allegedly not told the truth about their home base.

“If an MP wanted to rort the system by declaring a false home base, there is no way they would ever be caught. That’s a disgrace. And it needs to be fixed immediately.

“Moreover, if the investigation finds that Senator McLucas has not been truthful about her ‘principal place of residence’, Mr Rudd must sack her immediately”, added Senator Ronaldson.

So at 12.05pm, Ronaldson’s office — these days headed by veteran Liberal staffer and occasional Crikey correspondent Peter Phelps, with help from Republican import Ted Lapkin — did the one thing guaranteed to draw attention to a press release, and recalled it.

From: Phelps, Peter (Sen M. Ronaldson)
Sent: Thursday, 28 May 2009 12:05 PM
To: Phelps, Peter (Sen M. Ronaldson)
Subject: RECALL RECALL RECALL

Please ignore previous email — typo — incorrect attribution.

Peter Phelps

Phelps, Peter (Sen M. Ronaldson)

Then at 12.11pm:

Apologies — corrected version.

28 May 2009

Department Reopens Investigation into McLucas Travel Allegations

The Department of Finance has agreed to reopen their investigation into Senator Jan McLucas’ travel allowance claims, following questioning from Senator Ronaldson in Estimates.

Senator Ronaldson said, “I find it almost unbelievable that Finance closed down their original investigation without first ascertaining the most basic of facts: where does Senator McLucas actually live? etc

But they were on a roll in Ronno’s office. They took aim at Swan and Rudd at 1.45pm.

28 May 2009

Staffer and Bureaucrat Champagne Soirées in the Sky

The staff of Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan and their bureaucrats are still flying First Class on international travel despite the tough financial climate, it was revealed by Senator Michael Ronaldson in Estimates today.

Senator Ronaldson said, “I find it unbelievable that with the global financial crisis and a $58 billion deficit, the Treasurer and Prime Minister allow their staff to swan around in the pointy end of the plane, drinking champagne and eating canapés.

The total cost paid by taxpayers for the flight to and from London was $117,831.40, and took place from 11-17 March 2009.

“This is typical of the Rudd Labor government — demand belt-tightening from the Australian people, but then allow this sort of wasteful indulgence for its own staff.

“Mr Rudd and Mr Swan didn’t blink an eye wasting $23 billion of taxpayers’ money on ‘cash splashes’, so of course they don’t care about an extra $120,000.

“I could perhaps understand if one official was up in First Class assisting Mr Swan, but did they really need the whole travelling circus?

“Even worse, the Rudd Labor Government is closing down two vital electoral education centres in Melbourne and Adelaide, which teach our kids about democracy and voting. Yet the Melbourne centre only costs $300,000 a year to run. Where is their sense of perspective?

“Once again, the Rudd Labor Government says ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and it’s Australia’s kids who have to suffer for the high-class tastes of political minders and fat-cat bureaucrats”, added Senator Ronaldson.

The nuances of why Ronaldson found staff travelling arrangements “unbelievable” and the Department of Finance’s investigation of Senator McLucas merely “almost unbelievable” had to wait, because Ronaldson’s office then realised they’d done their sums wrong. At 3.54pm the following went out:

From: Phelps, Peter (Sen M. Ronaldson)
Sent: Thursday, 28 May 2009 3:54 PM
To: Phelps, Peter (Sen M. Ronaldson)
Subject: FW: Staffer and Bureaucrat Champagne Soirées in the Sky — CORRECTION

Correction — should only be $58,915.70 — the Dept officials did not fly First.

Don’t have cost for the bureaucrats.

Peter

Phelps, Peter (Sen M. Ronaldson)

At 4.16pm the 1.45pm email was recalled and at 4.18pm a corrected version was sent out.

That’s the great thing about press releases. They may not always succeed in conveying the message intended by the sender, but they’re brilliant at sharing their mistakes with the rest of the world.

Peter Fray

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