George Christensen (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Department of Finance representatives have been questioned over whether MP George Christensen breached parliamentary expenses rules when promoting books for sale on Amazon and seeking donations.

Labor Senator Tim Ayres used a Senate estimates hearing to inquire about the controversial Queensland LNP politician’s behaviour. Earlier this month, Crikey reported that Christensen had joined Amazon’s Associate program, an affiliate marketing program that would give Christensen a cut of any sales made through hyperlinks that he promoted.

Christensen used his email newsletter, Facebook page and Telegram channel to promote books sold on Amazon.

At Thursday evening’s Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee hearing, Ayres asked whether an MP using a service that was publicly funded — like a website (where Christensen promotes his newsletter and Facebook page) or a newsletter service used to send out each email — to promote their commercial interests would violate parliamentary procedures.

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“If it is publicly funded through the program that you administer and there is a blatant commercial effort to raise money — unclear whether it’s for personal enrichment or political donations — then is this a legitimate area of public inquiry?” Ayres asked.

The Department of Finance’s First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial and Parliamentary Services, David De Silva, said that while not all MPs’ websites are publicly funded, it would be a contravention of parliamentary expenses if it was used this way.

If the website is funded under the [Parliamentary Business Resource] framework, it can’t be used for a commercial purpose including raising funds.

Ayres said that his office saw on May 6 that Christensen’s website featured a button seeking donations — but that has now been removed.

Birmingham said that he had not spoken to Christensen about his website, and took a question on notice about whether his office had contacted Christensen about it.

Christensen’s office did not respond to questions about whether any parliamentary entitlements have been used as part of his participation with the Amazon Associate program.

Christensen, however, clearly noticed that his behaviour had come under scrutiny.

Since Crikey’s article, he has stopped promoting links to Amazon products. He also removed all mentions of the associate program from his Facebook page and newsletter footnotes, and deleted all Facebook posts promoting Amazon listings.

Old newsletters promoting Amazon links remain on his newsletter service and on his Telegram channel.

Replacing his Amazon Affiliate program disclosure message in his Facebook page “About” section, Christensen left a little note for any keen-eyed observers.

“Why are lefty gumps so interested in what I do on Facey?” he wrote.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

Liz
North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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