Tony Abbott speaks to Peter Slipper in 2011. Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe expenses scandal has taken a new twist, after it emerged Prime Minister Tony Abbott billed taxpayers to attend Peter Slipper’s wedding and repaid the cost seven years later.
Mr Abbott, who attacked Mr Slipper’s character over alleged indiscretions including entitlement misuse, said he discovered he had billed taxpayers for a ”couple” of weddings after other MPs were exposed for such travel.
An emotional Mr Slipper accused Mr Abbott of ”breathtaking hypocrisy”, saying that while other MPs had been allowed to repay errant expense claims, the charges brought against him had destroyed his life. The Prime Minister last week repaid $1095 for former colleague Sophie Mirabella’s wedding in 2006 and $609 for Mr Slipper’s event the same year.
Mr Abbott, who is in Indonesia to attend the APEC conference, reimbursed the money after Fairfax Media revealed a week ago that taxpayers met the costs of Attorney-General George Brandis and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce attending shock jock Michael Smith’s wedding.
Fairfax Media also revealed Coalition MPs Julie Bishop, Teresa Gambaro and Mr Joyce collectively claimed more than $12,000 in ”overseas study” payments to return from an Indian wedding they attended as guests of Gina Rinehart.
The Greens will re-introduce a private member’s bill to install a National Integrity Commissioner to rein in entitlements abuse. Independent senator Nick Xenophon also said politicians should write short reports explaining their reasons for domestic travel; downgrade from business class to economy for flights of less than two hours; and repay double the cost of incorrect claims.
Mr Abbott said he was advised it was ”unclear” whether his wedding travel was legitimate so he refunded taxpayers ”to avoid doubt”.
The Prime Minister warned his colleagues to ”err on the side of caution and if there is any doubt, they should act immediately to clear the matter up”.
Mr Slipper found it ”breathtaking” other politicians were allowed to pay back inappropriate entitlements while he faced court for his. ”I am before the courts for $964 when it seems to be carte blanche for Coalition figures simply to be able to write cheques for reimbursement,” Mr Slipper said.
Mr Abbott had previously used the elevation of Mr Slipper to the Speakership to attack then prime minister Julia Gillard’s ethics. Mr Abbott’s parliamentary motion – in which he said the government should have ”died of shame” – triggered Ms Gillard’s much-discussed misogyny speech.
Mr Abbott’s latest repayment came as news surfaced that a Coalition MP – who has previously lashed out at supermarkets selling halal meat – took ”arduous” taxpayer-funded study tours to Europe and Asia to broaden his cultural understanding.
Luke Simpkins argued he needed ”to visit the homelands of major non-English-speaking communities” of his WA electorate to better understand their concerns. His trips to Vietnam, Thailand, Greece and Macedonia in 2011 cost taxpayers $15,840 but he argued they were a success. He said he did not have any rest days but did go on an ”unscheduled” visit to the Acropolis.
A Fairfax Media review of travel reports has found a handful of questionable study tours, including Labor MP Laurie Ferguson’s investigation of the Roma population in Hungary after he ”was very much affected by Isabel Fonseca’s work Bury Me Standing”. And Queensland Liberal National Party MP Ross Vasta returned from a $14,345 study tour to Asia last year, calling on Australia to copy a ”phenomenal incentive” of placing a ”scratchie” on the corner of tax receipts to improve accuracy.
With Daniel Hurst
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.