There was an outcry on Friday after it was revealed that Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert had charged as much as $2,800 to the public purse for a single month’s internet connection to his Gold Coast home.
Having claimed an average of $1,845 per month, over the past six months, the member for Fadden, 43, blamed “connectivity issues” in his locality for the extortionate sums, which he claimed as part of his $32,000 annual electorate allowance.
As Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirms that he has ordered an investigation into the expense claims made by the Member for Fadden, Starts at 60 has taken a look back at some of the most shocking MP expenses scandals in recent years, from Robert’s excessive data charges to questions over Joe Hockey’s use of the public purse earlier this year.
In June it was revealed that US Ambassador Hockey had dipped his hands into taxpayers’ pockets and splashed out around AU$70,000 to cover ‘entertainment’ costs, with the Australian public footing the bill for flowers, booze, childcare services and even Hockey’s laundry.
The Herald Sun reported that Hockey spent a whopping $3,340 on childminding in the six-month period, while he carried out official duties, and also splashed out thousands on a number of parties, including $3,165 for a party in honour of retiring diplomat Dennis Richardson, and $2,535 on a reception for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. However, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to Starts at 60 the expenses were “in accordance with departmental policy”.
Perhaps the most memorable MP expenses scandal though was that of former Federal Parliamentary Speaker Bronwyn Bishop who caused outrage when she brazenly used $5,000 of taxpayers’ money to fund a chartered helicopter flight, flying just 80km from Melbourne to Geelong in November 2014.
Bishop stepped down from the role of Speaker one month after the scandal broke in July 2015, remaining in parliament as the local member for Mackellar, before resigning from parliament altogether the following year, delivering her final speech in May 2016.
At the time, as well as repaying the $5,000, she said: “I want to apologise to the Australian people for my error of judgment and to say sorry. You know, that helicopter, yes, I was short of time. But it is no excuse, and it was an error of judgment. And really, as I said, I want to apologise to the Australian people, becauseI feel I’ve let them down.”
Former Liberal frontbencher Sussan Ley resigned from her position as Health Minister in January last year following the scandal that broke out after it was alleged she had used taxpayer cash to fund a trip to the Gold Coast to purchase an apartment worth $795,000. She was also found to have billed taxpayers to attend two New Year’s Eve events.
At the time Ley denied breaking any rules, however then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Australian people expected politicians to “spend taxpayers’ money carefully”, adding: “We should be, as politicians, backbenchers and ministers, we should be as careful and as accountable with taxpayers’ money as we possibly can be.”
Another MP who has made headlines on more than one occasion over the use of his parliamentary expenses is former National Party leader Barnaby Joyce. The former deputy prime minister has had his claims scrutinised on a number of occasions, most recently in July this year when he repaid more than $700 to the Department of Finance.
The 51-year-old was cleared of any wrongdoing, however ‘voluntarily repaid’ $779.54 in relation to a trip to Canberra from the Sunshine Coast, where he had been enjoying a family holiday, in January 2017.
The IPEA said Joyce was recalled to Canberra for urgent ministerial business in January 2017 and travelled by special-purpose aircraft. He then used a hire car to return to the holiday the following day, however Joyce said he repaid the sum because he was only legally entitled to return to his home base, in Tamworth, and not the family holiday as he had done.
His expenses were also called into question in April 2016 when it was revealed that he had chartered two $4000 helicopter flights in the space of a year to visit the village of Drake, northern New South Wales, just a 40-minute drive from Mr Joyce’s second electorate office in Tenterfield.