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Media

Apr 24, 2017

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The travel expenses scandal is a perennial favourite of the Australian news media (especially over the summer).

We hate to see our politicians getting greedy, or taking more than we think they’ve earned. Once news breaks that a politician has been squeezing every last bit out of their parliamentary entitlements (or more), there are very tricky waters to navigate if pollies want to keep their jobs.

Media intelligence agency Isentia has crunched the numbers on coverage of politicians’ expense scandals over the past two years to find out what makes a travel expenses scandal, and what happens to the pollies who get caught up.

In about 10 such scandals to hit the media over the past few years, the most important thing a politician can do when they get sprung is ‘fess up.

“These are issues that keep growing,” Isentia research and insights chief executive Khali Sakkas told Crikey. “What happens if you don’t respond is that the story becomes that you are not responding.”

And more than that, it’s a question of fairness, Sakkas says.

“Australians have this really big sense of fairness, and if things are unfair, we’ll try to seek justice for them. It’s unfair to be able to buy apartments on a whim,” she said.

On average, a travel expenses scandal stays in the media for 16 days, and if it doesn’t pass the pub test, the pollie will be out of a job eight days after the story broke.

But one case study that stood out was then-health minister Sussan Ley, who earlier this year resigned from Malcolm Turnbull’s frontbench after a scandal over her travel expenses.

Instead of taking two days to meaningfully respond to the initial reports of charging taxpayers to travel to the Gold Coast for a New Year’s Eve party, Ley took four days. And in expense-scandal time, that’s far too long. By the time a second strike came into play (the apartment Ley said she bought as an impulse-purchase), Ley didn’t have much chance of salvaging her career.

[We lodged an FOI on Ley’s diary, came up empty-handed]

“The issue was dying,” Sakkas said. There was one day where outraged Twitter users could only muster the energy to write 11 angry tweets. “Then the apartment came into play as well,” Sakkas said. “That just propelled it. It was a second hit that really propelled the media attention.”

To add to that, Ley was the health minister at a time when the government was chasing false Centrelink debts and had just cut pensions.

“There was this juxtaposition of this person buying an apartment on a whim, using a private jet and partying on the Gold Coast, compared to the government demanding repayment of Centrelink debt and cuts to 330,000 pensioners,” Sakkas said. “It just fed this idea that politicians have their snouts in the trough.”

In a situation like Ley’s, there was little chance she was going to keep her job, even if she had’ve responded earlier.

“The optics of buying an apartment on a whim was a second strike. This additional issue ensured the story was prominent across all media types and perhaps all of this combined to force action,” Sakkas said.

On average, for politicians who lose their jobs after an expenses scandal, 8000 news items (print, radio, television and online) will be published about the issue. Ley had about 1100 news items published — more than 2 million words were published online and in print about it, and about 5600 stories were broadcast on TV and radio.

Not all scandals Isentia assessed ended up with a sacking. Don Randall, Tony Burke and Steven Irons all kept their jobs. They gave a meaningful response to the scandal breaking a day earlier than cases where politicians lost their jobs.

So the lesson is clear: if you’re a pollie embroiled in an travel expenses scandal, it’s best to say something meaningful, ASAP. But if it’s not going to pass the sniff test, it probably doesn’t matter how quick you show your contrition. 

News

Mar 21, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

MPs offered new phone numbers after parliament stuff-up. Fairfax broke the news yesterday that the Department of Parliamentary Services had accidentally uploaded a whole bunch of mobile numbers for MPs and senators to the government website devoted to publishing the amount taxpayers are paying for each elected member of parliament and former prime ministers for their phones. Usually the phone numbers are removed entirely, but for some reason the company doing the work, which had been outsourced, simply changed the font colour to white to make it appear blank, until you highlight the text.

The data was apparently up on the site for months until pointed out by Fairfax. In an email sent by Department of Parliamentary Services Chief Information Officer Ian McKenzie to members and senators and seen by Crikey, McKenzie has offered to give MPs and senators new numbers if they are worried about their privacy being breached. McKenzie said that the reports with the phone numbers in it were caches by Google, and still may be accessible even though they have been removed from the APH website. DPS is working with Google to get the cached versions removed.

McKenzie said it would soon update politicians with details of what had been disclosed and how to “block nuisance caller numbers”.

Incidentally, under legislation currently before the Senate — which Crikey has covered before — the mere act of someone at Fairfax highlighting the text to “re-identify” the data from the de-identified forms could be a breach of the legislation.

The definition of re-identification is so vague that even such a simple trick could constitute a breach. Worse still, because the law is retrospective, if it passes in its current form, in theory, the government could prosecute Fairfax for the gall of pointing out their stuff-up, even though Fairfax didn’t publish any of the re-identified numbers. The legislation is due to be debated in the Senate later this week, and Crikey predicts there will be some amendments in light of this incident.

Reported pick for ABC chair has Turnbull ties.Jobs for the boys” is what then-shadow comms minister Jason Clare said when former Ozemail exec and Netcomm chairman Justin Milne was appointed to the NBN board at the end of 2013, and now it looks like Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull found another job for Milne, with AFR‘s Joe Aston reporting Milne has been tapped to be the new ABC chairman. Turnbull is set to announce the appointment later this week. Milne’s appointment to NBN back in 2013 was mildly controversial in that it directly contradicted what Turnbull had said before the election. When Ms Tips heard in 2013 that Milne was likely to be the new NBN CEO, Turnbull was on the phone quicksmart to say “no commitments have been made to anyone”. Milne ultimately was given a board job rather than the CEO job, but if Aston’s reporting is correct, it looks like Turnbull found a better job for Milne.

Ley’s food fair. Former Health Minister Sussan Ley may be out of the ministry after her travel expenses scandal over the summer break, but unlike some of the other high profile demotions, she doesn’t appear to be sniping and undermining, but advocating for her electorate. Tomorrow she will hold a Farrer Food Fair in Parliament House to show off all the agricultural goods produced in her electorate. MPs, staffers and media will be able to “wrestle with rissoles, sample Sunrice sushi, and pull some proper pork”.

Freedom to intimidate. Matters of Public Importance are debated every day the Senate sits at around 4pm and the topic is chosen by whichever senator wins the draw on that day. Yesterday, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts had heads scratching when he said his topic would be the “prosecution” of Christians in south-east Queensland. Roberts later confirmed his speech was regarding the proselytising activities of a group of preachers in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast called Operation 513. As Roberts describes them:

Street preachers, from what I have seen, assemble in spots like Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall — maybe five to 10 preachers. Sometimes they are Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons; at other times they are a range of other denominations. They set up a little table, place the holy Scripture on it and talk to people who come by. Sometimes they may give a little talk, using a microphone. They talk about Jesus, just as in the same way we use the words of Jesus when we open with prayer in this chamber every day.

“On occasions, they may provide literature about the healing, forgiveness and love of Christianity, and on how to obtain help if you are in need of support.”

Those in the area know this group as serial pests who harass passers-by. As Greens senator Nick McKim said yesterday of one of the men, George Youssef:

“They said he was vilifying gay people. He was causing anxiety. He was disrupting the trade of businesses. This was on 4 December last year. Police have also said that he told those who were intoxicated and celebrating the second week of schoolies that they would ‘go to hell for being drunk, for being Muslim, for being Buddhist and for having sex outside wedlock’. This is a guy who was standing there abusing schoolies and suggesting that they would go to hell for fornicating outside wedlock”

Indeed, one of the men named by Roberts in parliament yesterday as being a prosecuted Christian, Ryan Hemelaar, has a history of clashing with gay rights campaigners. He can be seen in images in a Fairfax article from 2011 wearing an Operation 513 T-shirt while clashing with marriage equality advocates in Brisbane. On the Operation 513 website, Hemelaar reports he has told people on the street supporting same-sex marriage that gay people should just refrain from acting on their sexuality.

“One of the preachers is Ryan Hemelaar, who is a most unassuming gentleman — polite, amenable and kind. He has been fined by Brisbane City Council for such things as handing out written material, using an amplifier and placing an A-frame sign with a bible verse on it,” Roberts said yesterday.

One Nation has its team back. Rod Culleton’s brother-in-law Peter Georgiou is officially now a Senator for Western Australia, replacing Culleton. Georgiou is still getting over the measles, so he has yet to set foot in the Senate. Until he is back, there is a pair on his votes (whereby someone voting on the opposite side to what Georgiou would vote sits out to cancel out his absence). This means the Senate is just one short of its 76 senators, as we await the High Court’s decision on what will happen to former Family First Senator Bob Day’s spot.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Tips and rumours

Mar 14, 2017

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It’s a race against time now for Labor to get hold of Attorney-General George Brandis’ 2014 diary. Yesterday, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said he intended to take Brandis back to court for failing to comply with an order by the Federal Court six months ago that the AG process a freedom of information request for his diary.

Without dusting off Ms Tips’ tinfoil hat, the minister’s continual delay in processing the request could be seen as running down the clock before Brandis’ widely expected move out of the ministry — and possible move to London. Because the FOI is still in the “processing” stage, if Brandis leaves his post, the request would then be passed on to his successor. In at least three previous FOI cases — for Tony Abbott’s diary, for Andrew Robb’s diary, and for Sussan Ley’s diary — when these requests were passed on, the new minister’s office suddenly claimed it did not have access to the diary and could not complete the request.

It is an anomaly of FOI law that documents within the scope of a request might not be retained while the request is being processed. Neither the department nor the minister has any oversight over documents to ensure that they are retained as the ministry is reshuffled. Maybe Brandis can see a silver lining to getting shafted from being the country’s top law officer?

Federal

Feb 6, 2017

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Federal politicians are back at work today after a long summer break, and at last the halls of power are full of more than just news-hungry journalists and dead Bogong moths. But what have those who have to be in Parliament House been doing since the middle of December? 

As you walk through security at the various entrances, there is a screen above the metal detector that tells you what is happening in particular rooms in the building. For most of the summer break, there were few line items. 

In December there was still the odd committee hearing, but after the last gasp of political news for the year — the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook — everything just about shut up shop.

Even MYEFO is a pale imitation of its bigger sibling, the budget. Just a short 50-minute lock-up, which occupies just one room instead of the full six-hour affair taking up numerous committee rooms. And only the full-time gallery journalists show up to MYEFO. There’s no Treasurer’s speech, just a blue room press conference. When it was all over, that was it for 2016.

For the media, skeleton staff remained between Christmas and the first few weeks of January, but for the Department of Parliamentary Services, it was a busy few weeks. The red and green carpets were cleaned or replaced. The wooden floors were waxed. The walls were given a fresh coat of paint. The lights were turned off in the two chambers.

As I wandered the Senate side hallways in the first few days of January to discover whether Rod Culleton had been kicked out of his office yet (he hadn’t, but he has now), very official-looking warning signs alerting to waxed floors and wet paint dotted the halls.

Journalists went a bit more casual. A select few braved shorts for the extremely hot Canberra summer days. In one of the quieter moments in early January, cricket was played in the halls of the press gallery.

Many spent that January time knee-deep in PDFs looking for juicy expenses stories, like the one that brought down Sussan Ley. 

Aussie’s — the cafe just past security on the Senate side where politicians, staffers, journalists and lobbyists tend to meet for coffee — shut down for the first few weeks of the year, leaving either the public cafe or the Trough for hungry staff and journos. But the company that managed the Trough lost its contract at the end of 2016, leading to an odd clearance sale of wine in the last few days of the year for those still around.

The cafeteria and coffee is now managed internally, meaning for the first few weeks, the options were limited and the self-serve ordering system gone. Promises were made that this would be restored in early February (when the important people are back).

Inside the building, the silence was only interrupted every so often for tour groups. Outside it was business as usual, as scores of tourists lined up for selfies outside Parliament House — no fences here yet — in the very spot where, just over a month ago, the waters were red and lined with protesters. 

But by last week, the monitor by security was filled with events. A room booked by Christopher Pyne for defence meetings, committee hearings kicked into gear, and the Great Hall was decked out for the Australian of the Year announcement.

Staffers returned as cabinet meetings were held, and the PM and opposition leader give National Press Club speeches.

Life returns to Canberra. Such as it exists in the bush capital.

Tips and rumours

Jan 19, 2017

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The Department of Health has said it can no longer access former health minister Sussan Ley’s diary since her resignation.

When Ley stood aside last week pending an investigation into her expenses, she told reporters that she would be making her diary available as part of PM&C secretary Martin Parkinson’s investigation into her expenses claims, in particular around her trips to the Gold Coast, where she bought an investment property as an impulse buy. She refused to release her diary to the media because she said journalists would go on “fishing expeditions”.

The statement, like a red rag to a bull, prompted Crikey to file a freedom of information request with the Department of Health to Ley’s office — there is no direct way to send FOI requests to ministers — asking for Ley’s diary over the pertinent two months. 

But yesterday afternoon, after Malcolm Turnbull announced Greg Hunt would replace Ley as minister for health and sport, the department said it was unlikely the documents still existed:

“It is unlikely that documents such as those to which you have sought access will be in the possession of the new Minister and as such you may wish to consider withdrawing your request.  I can confirm that the Department of Health does not have possession of any of the documents to which you have sought access.  You may wish to consider submitting a new request to an alternate agency.”

Other agencies have made similar claims over diaries of former ministers once they step down, including Trade with Andrew Robb, and PM&C when Turnbull replaced Abbott. The failure to retain the diaries of former ministers could potentially be in breach of the Commonwealth Archives Act.

The Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet might have a copy of Ley’s diary as part of its investigation, but Turnbull told journalists he had no intention of releasing any findings from the investigation that resulted in Ley resigning from the cabinet.

“The advice that I’ve received from the Secretary of my Department is advice to me and the Governance Committee of Cabinet. The practice has not been to release advice of that kind.”

News

Jan 19, 2017

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Ley’s diary going, going, gone. The Department of Health has said it can no longer access former health minister Sussan Ley’s diary since her resignation.

When Ley stood aside last week pending an investigation into her expenses, she told reporters that she would be making her diary available as part of PM&C secretary Martin Parkinson’s investigation into her expenses claims, in particular around her trips to the Gold Coast, where she bought an investment property as an impulse buy. She refused to release her diary to the media because she said journalists would go on “fishing expeditions”.

The statement, like a red rag to a bull, prompted Crikey to file a freedom of information request with the Department of Health to Ley’s office — there is no direct way to send FOI requests to ministers — asking for Ley’s diary over the pertinent two months. 

But yesterday afternoon, after Malcolm Turnbull announced Greg Hunt would replace Ley as minister for health and sport, the department said it was unlikely the documents still existed:

“It is unlikely that documents such as those to which you have sought access will be in the possession of the new Minister and as such you may wish to consider withdrawing your request.  I can confirm that the Department of Health does not have possession of any of the documents to which you have sought access.  You may wish to consider submitting a new request to an alternate agency.”

Other agencies have made similar claims over diaries of former ministers once they step down, including Trade with Andrew Robb, and PM&C when Turnbull replaced Abbott. The failure to retain the diaries of former ministers could potentially be in breach of the Commonwealth Archives Act.

The Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet might have a copy of Ley’s diary as part of its investigation, but Turnbull told journalists he had no intention of releasing any findings from the investigation that resulted in Ley resigning from the cabinet.

“The advice that I’ve received from the Secretary of my Department is advice to me and the Governance Committee of Cabinet. The practice has not been to release advice of that kind.”

Latho loves the Libs. Mark Latham stuck the boot into Mike Baird this morning, following the news Baird would step down as NSW Premier. But Latho’s view of Baird does not apply to all Liberals, with the former Labor leader set to appear at a fundraiser for the Roseville branch of the Liberal Party, speaking at a dinner hosted by the Northern Sydney Conservative Forum. As reported in The Australian today, Latham will speak on the topic “The Fight to Save our Civilisation: Why Social Conservatives and Social Democrats have found Common Cause” on February 22. The organisation has previously hosted Jennifer Oriel and Tom Switzer in similar events, and tickets to this one cost $85 a pop. 

 

 

Where’s Tony? A tipster spotted former prime minister Tony Abbott at the Hilton Hotel in Adelaide yesterday, right in time for the Tour Down Under, the cycling event that takes place across South Australia this week. Today he has tweeted he is taking part in the Beat Cancer Tour, which rides the same path as the Santos Tour. Of course, riding hundreds of kilometres doesn’t stop Abbott from paying attention to politics; yesterday the former PM defended his legacy, tweeting “traditional cabinet processes operated at all times between 2013 and 2015” and “A govt without proper process would not have stopped the boats, concluded the big FTAs and made a very strong start to budget repair”.

Culleton gone fishin’. Last week we reported that Rod Culleton’s name still adorned his office in Parliament House, as he was claiming that because he still had his senator’s badge and his office, it meant that he was still a senator, despite being ruled ineligible to do the job because of being bankrupt. Culleton later said he was going on a “self-imposed” absence from the job, after warnings from Senate president Stephen Parry about the penalties for impersonating a public official. His Facebook page now reads “Rod Culleton ‘Senator’ for WA – Gone Fishin'”. Yes, they are his scare quotes around “senator”. 

Spectator hearts Julian Assange. January brings many well-loved debates to the Australian media sphere: should we say “Australia Day”? Should we celebrate Australia with images of people in hijabs? Who should be honoured as Australian of the Year? The Australian always runs its own competition — spoiler alert: Gina Rinehart always gets a nomination. Now the Spectator Australia has a contribution to make, suggesting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should get the gong. How things change! Former Coalition adviser John Adams writes:

The award’s criteria are threefold: a contribution to the community locally, nationally or globally, an inspirational role model and demonstrated excellence. 

“Assange exceeds across all these categories through liberating the citizens of the world with the truth, demonstrating phenomenal moral and physical courage and creating the world’s leading international publishing house of secrets with a perfect 10-year publishing record of authentic and original source material. 

“Of all the named finalists for the 2017 award, their efforts pale into insignificance compared with what Assange has accomplished in 2016.”

It’s a topsy-turvy world.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Federal

Jan 19, 2017

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The age of entitlement has been over since February 2014, but stories keep coming out about pollies billing the taxpayer for things they perhaps should not have. Herewith, federal politicians for whom the sun might never set on the age of entitlement. 

George Brandis

December 2011: In what seemed to begin a theme of politicians being caught out for charging taxpayers to attend weddings, Senator George Brandis was found to have charged taxpayers $1683 to attend the wedding of Michael Smith in December 2011. For those concerned, Brandis is said to have had a lovely time, with Smith noting Brandis had torn up the dance floor.

December 2015: Brandis claimed flights, Comcar and travel allowance for two days in Sydney during the 2015/16 New Year period. This was during the same period as three other government ministers billed taxpayers for travel to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s New Year’s Eve party. 

September 2016: According to The Australian, Brandis chartered flights to remote western Queensland in September 2016 for himself, his son and a staff member. Brandis insists the taxpayer-funded trip to Quilpie and Charleville was for the purpose of opening the Quilpie and District Show and Rodeo and to attend meetings organised by local federal and state MPs with constituents. But The Australian also reported Quilpie mayor Stuart Mackenzie had said he understood one reason Brandis wanted to travel to those locations “was because of his family connections to the area”. Mackenzie went on to say it was after they had heard of Brandis’ plans to travel to Quilpie that he arranged for Brandis to attend meetings and open the show. The Australian estimates the cost of the flights to be around $12,000, but official numbers won’t be known until the relevant reports are released later this year. 

Pauline Hanson

January 2017: One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson denied her travel across Queensland last week was a taxpayer-funded campaign for her One Nation candidates in the upcoming state election. Hanson said her travel across Queensland was within the purposes of her job.

Sussan Ley

December 2013 and 2014: Sussan Ley had used taxpayer money for airfares and taxis to attend New Year’s Eve celebrations on the Gold Coast. Ley attended celebrations hosted by political donor and multimillionaire Sarina Russo.

July 2014: Then-assistant minister for education, Ley chartered a flight from Canberra to Melbourne at a cost of $6300, rather than fly commercial.

May 2015: During a May 2015 Queensland where she made a $1.3 billion Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme announcement, Ley also purchased a $795,000 investment property on the Gold Coast with her partner. Ley said the apartment purchase was not “planned nor anticipated”.

Also during this time period, Ley chartered a flight from Canberra to Adelaide at a cost to the taxpayer of $7000. She would not explain why she could not fly Qantas. 

March 2016: Ley charged taxpayers to charter a $12,000 VIP jet to the Gold Coast for an afternoon meeting in March 2016.

Julie Bishop 

June 2011: Julie Bishop was reported to have attended a wedding in India as a guest of Gina Rinehart. Bishop claimed the trip was a study tour, which enabled her to claim the $3445 flight as an expense to the taxpayer.

January 2016: Bishop claimed had claimed attending the January 2016 Portsea Polo event as “official ministerial business” and charged taxpayers $2716.

January 2017: Bishop reneged on her appearance at the 2017 Portsea Polo event.

Mathias Cormann

September 2013: Senator Mathias Cormann charged taxpayers $3533 for airfares to attend the 2013 AFL grand final with his wife, as a guest of the National Australia Bank. Cormann is in charge of the department that oversees politicians’ entitlements.

The ABC also reported that in a statement, Cormann’s office said he had “official commitments before, during and after the AFL grand final weekend”.

David Bushby

September 2013: David Bushby charged taxpayers $863 in airfares to attend the 2013 AFL grand final as a guest of National Australia Bank.

Steve Ciobo 

September 2013: The ABC revealed Trade Minister Steve Ciobo had also attended the 2013 AFL grand final as a guest of National Australia Bank. Ciobo charged taxpayers $1102 for an airfare to Melbourne for the game.

Mitch Fifield 

September 2013: The ABC reported Senator Mitch Fifield, who lives in Victoria, had also been a guest of National Australia Bank at the 2013 AFL grand final but had not charged taxpayers for travel to the game. 

December 2015: Fifield was reported to be one of four government ministers to have charged taxpayers for travel to Sydney for the 2015 New Year period. Fifield claimed expenses for flights for himself and a family member.

Bronwyn Bishop 

June 2006: Bronwyn Bishop was found to have charged taxpayers for flights between Sydney and Albury, during which time she also attended Sophie Mirabella’s wedding.

November 2014: Bishop spent $5227.27 of taxpayer money on a helicopter flight from Melbourne to a golf course near Geelong for a Liberal Party fundraiser. The flight and ensuing criticism were labelled “choppergate”, and she resigned in August the following year.

Tony Burke

April 2012: Then-environment minister Tony Burke defended his use of the family travel allowance when he used more than $12,000 of taxpayer money for a trip to Uluru with his family.

Christopher Pyne

December 2009: Christopher Pyne and his family claimed in excess of $5000 for travel to Sydney on Christmas Day and for them to return home to Adelaide on New Year’s Day 2010. At the time, Pyne was the manager of opposition business and claimed to have travelled to Sydney for a meeting with then-opposition leader Tony Abbott.

A spokesman for Pyne told Fairfax Media “neither Mr Pyne nor his family have ever seen the New Year’s Eve Sydney fireworks”.

Steve Irons 

October 2011: Steve Irons was found to have charged taxpayers $2257 in airfares to and from his own wedding in October 2011. Irons said he had repaid the money for the travel between Perth and Melbourne to the Department of Finance. Irons was found to have also charged the taxpayer for his wife’s airfare to Perth after the wedding.

December 2015: The West Australian newspaper reported Irons attended a golf tournament on the Gold Coast for which he charged taxpayers. Irons said the travel to the Gold Coast was used to “study golf tourism opportunities”. 

Irons was found to have also charged taxpayers for his wife to accompany him on the Gold Coast trip to study golf tourism opportunities. This made the total for the Gold Coast trip more than $4000, including three nights’ accommodation.

Scott Morrison

October 2011: Then-immigration minister Scott Morrison repaid the Department of Finance $354 after claiming travel allowance to attend a colleague’s wedding. The wedding was held in Melbourne and was believed to be that of Steve Irons.

Stuart Robert

October 2011: Then-shadow minister for defence, science, technology and personnel Stuart Robert was found to have also claimed a travel allowance for the same night in Melbourne as Scott Morrison. Robert repaid the $354 but his spokesman said Robert had been in Melbourne to attend a meeting.

Tony Abbott

June 2006: Tony Abbott repaid $1095 in 2013 after he had previously claimed the money in travel expenses for travelling to Sophie Mirabella’s 2006 wedding.

August 2006: Abbott was found to have claimed taxpayer money for travel to the 2006 wedding of Peter Slipper. Abbott later repaid the more than $600 he had previously claimed in expenses.

Barnaby Joyce

December 2011: Then-shadow minister for regional development, local government and water Barnaby Joyce was reported to have also, along with Brandis, attended Michael Smith’s wedding on the taxpayer’s dime.

Joyce reportedly read the poem Fair Dinkum Love by Kim Cockerell

Peter Dutton

December 2015: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was reported to have charged taxpayers for travel between Brisbane and Sydney to attend a New Year’s Eve party hosted by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Simon Birmingham

December 2015: Education Minister Simon Birmingham was reported to be the fourth minister to claim expenses for travel to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s 2015 New Year’s Eve party. Birmingham was reported to have claimed a single Cabcharge as his only expense for the night. 

Comments & corrections

Jan 19, 2017

5 comments

No deal

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Let’s make a deal” (yesterday). It’s not really up to Julian Assange to decide to jump on a plane to the US. If he steps out of the Ecuadorian embassy, he will be arrested for breaking his bail. He will then face possible extradition to Sweden. He may end up before a US court at some point, but he’s not in a position to make a “deal”.

Ley down

Mark Freeman writes: Re. “Ley replaced with two men with similar scandals” (yesterday). As the Sussan Ley scandal winds down, will we see media investigations into who had it in for her and why? The case has all the hallmarks of a hatchet job especially given the numerous other expenses rorts detailed. By contrast, the public interest was served in the Bronnie case where an incompetent relic was finally excised by her own striking act of entitled foolishness. In Ley’s case we’ve lost a moderately competent minister from an otherwise low grade field. The big question is why?
 
Infosec worries

Malcolm Barnett writes: Re. “Tip or hack? Journos should be careful with secret info, security expert warns” (yesterday). How good to hear that the Professor is 99.9 PC sure Russia hacked the DNC, but even ODNI has no evidence to support this assertion. Cyber security is certainly important, although the upside of hacking, which is usually ignored, is that the general public get an idea about what politicians and others who claim to have their interests at heart are really doing!

Federal

Jan 18, 2017

5 comments

After Health Minister Sussan Ley fell on her sword over the travel expenses controversy, it is curious that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s small cabinet reshuffle would promote two men with their own share of controversies in her place.

As had been widely predicted overnight, Turnbull announced on Wednesday that Greg Hunt will replace Ley as Health and Sport Minister, while Arthur Sinodinos will take over Hunt’s former portfolio of Innovation, Industry and Science.

Just days ago, the Herald Sun reported that Hunt had charged taxpayers more than $20,000 for trips for himself and his family to Queensland, including five trips to Noosa and six trips to Hayman Island during more than a decade in Parliament. This is significantly less than the estimated $40,000 Ley had spent on trips to the Gold Coast, and as far as has been reported, Hunt did not buy any investment properties, but it raises questions as to why Hunt’s trips were not considered to render him an unfit replacement for Ley.

[Bronwyn Bishop: let’s spit on socialism’s grave together, Sussan]

Arthur Sinodinos, a trusted operator within the Coalition and a close confidant of the Prime Minister, also has a messy past because of his appearances at ICAC over both the NSW Liberal Party laundering donations from property developers and his time at Australian Water Holdings. As Fairfax’s Kate McClymont notes, although there were no findings made against Sinodinos or expected to be made against him in either matter, his failure to act in either incident and his poor memory in ICAC hearings will likely haunt him as Labor targets the new Innovation Minister. 

Turnbull said that Sinodinos’ role as cabinet secretary would go back to the public service in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, reducing the size of the Turnbull cabinet by one.

The other limited changes made to the Turnbull cabinet include appointing Ken Wyatt as the assistant minister for aged care and Minister for Indigenous Health, making Wyatt the first indigenous person appointed to a Commonwealth ministry.

Conservative rising star Michael Sukkar has also been appointed as assistant minister to the treasurer, but any conservative desire for a Tony Abbott return to cabinet has been dashed.

[George Brandis and the struggle for competence]

The changes mean one less woman in Turnbull’s cabinet, and Ley is the only one to have been punished for her expenses claims, while other senior ministers, including Peter Dutton, Mathias Cormann and George Brandis, have had their own controversies over the past few weeks over expenses.

At some point, too, you have to wonder, what dirt does Brandis have on those in power in order to save himself for as long as he has? Many had been predicting Brandis might go in an early 2017 reshuffle by the PM, and yet he remains. The Attorney-General has more ministerial stuff-ups than any of his colleagues, he has misled Parliament, and there are still questions around his actions regarding the Bell Group High Court case still yet to be answered and more hearings over what he knew and when still to come. But London’s calling, so the fifth reshuffle in 18 months might not be that far away.

Queensland

Jan 17, 2017

5 comments

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson claims her current tour around Queensland ahead of the state election is part of her parliamentary duty, as she continues to criticise her federal colleagues for their travel expenses scandals.

For more than a week the Queensland Senator has been touring the state, showing off candidates in Townsville and Buderim for the yet-to-be announced state election, including defecting LNP member Steve Dickson, while at the same time calling for travel entitlements to be reined in.

When questioned by local station WIN News last week, Hanson got defensive, saying she wasn’t touring the state “promoting my party”.

“The state is my electorate,” Hanson said.

In a much more cosy interview with Sky News’ Paul Murray on Monday night, Hanson said everything she was doing in Queensland was to do with federal politics, including discussing the “escalating crime” in Townsville.

“What I’m doing is on official parliamentary duties,” she said.

“I’m getting around and doing my job I’m supposed to do as a senator,” she said.

An upcoming trip to Western Australia, where the party has just been registered, would be paid for by the party, she said.

Hanson said if a trip was entirely for party business in Queensland the party would pay for it, leaving room for joint parliamentary and party business trips to be paid for by the taxpayer. 

Hanson said One Nation’s plane was being used instead of paying for commercial flights, and when she did take commercial flights, she bought economy tickets. Hanson also said that she had yet to use her Comcar entitlement, saying she drove herself to the airport parking and took the bus to the airport.

“[Other passengers] get a shock when they see me. I’ve been doing that for the past five months.”

Unfortunately due to the current entitlements reporting period, the details of Hanson’s first few months back in parliament will not be known for several months. On Friday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — in announcing Sussan Ley had resigned as health minister following her own expenses scandal — announced that travel entitlements would begin being reported monthly instead of every six months and the data would be available in a machine-readable format instead of the clunky PDF documents for each individual politician available today.

The line between what is official parliamentary business and what can be considered campaigning is one on which MPs have no real guidance. As we reported last week, MPs and senators charged taxpayers more than $2 million in travel during the marathon eight-week election campaign last year, including senior politicians such as Mathias Cormann, Peter Dutton, Michaelia Cash and George Brandis charging taxpayers to attend their own party’s campaign launch.