Our federal leaders will be enjoying a well-earned drink over the holiday season, with many declaring recent Christmas gifts of wine, whisky and champagne.
Elsewhere through the year, politicians bought themselves some gifts on the public purse, shelling out on books, camera gear and for their offices.
The latest disclosures to the federal Parliament’s Register of Interests reveal some politicians have been peeking at their Christmas presents early, already aware of what they’ve been gifted.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s most recent addition to his register, lodged only on Tuesday, details a present of De Jure Belli ac Pacis, a 1625 text written in Latin by famous Dutch diplomat Hugo Grotuis.
The book, which translates to On the Law of War and Peace, was presented to the PM by Dean Gibson of the Policy Exchange in the United Kingdom.
Mr Morrison also scored a Koala on a Ladder bronze sculpture from the Wollondilly Shire Council.
Both gifts have been “surrendered to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet” – as are many official gifts given to the Prime Minister.
The PM’s previous update to his register, made on December 17, noted a gift of “a bottle of Hibiki Suntory whisky” from former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. No word on when it was received, but also no note on whether it was surrendered to the department.
Mr Morrison and Mr Abe were known as being on very good terms, with the Australian PM calling his Japanese counterpart a “true friend”.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has also disclosed a few gifts through the festive season, including a ‘Commemorative Qantas 747 Half Bar Cart’ from the national carrier, ‘Indigenous artwork’ from the Greek Orthodox Church of Australia, and a hunting spear from the Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation.
As of Thursday, only six federal MPs have disclosed gifts in December.
However, politicians have 28 days to update their registers after their interests change or gifts are received.
House of Representatives rule state that members must register gifts from “official sources” valued at more than $750 and gifts from “other than official sources” more than $300, but many register even small gifts to avoid issues around declarations or conflicts of interest.
Tim Wilson, from the Melbourne seat of Goldstein, declared two bottles of gin as gifts on December 14, from alcohol companies Diageo and Pernod Ricard.
On Wednesday, the day before Christmas Eve, Western Australian MP Celia Hammond declared a “case of of 2015 Della Fay Vermentino” and a “case of 2016 Della Fay Cabernet Sauvignon”, from a winery in the Margaret River region.
A more modest gift was received by Ms Hammond’s fellow Labor MP Sharon Claydon, who listed a $45 bottle of “Piper Champagne as a Christmas gift from Wests Group” on December 22.
Liberal MP Trevor Evans, from the seat of Brisbane, scored a “Christmas hamper” from his hometown NRL team, the Brisbane Broncos.
On December 18, he also declared receiving a “cricket bat signed by the Australian women’s team received from Queensland Cricket at the official opening of the National Cricket Campus at Shaw Road, Wooloowin”.
We’ll wait for more Christmas disclosures to roll in over coming weeks.
But it’s not just about what politicians got from others; it’s also interesting what they bought themselves.
The most recent reporting of politicians’ office expenses, released by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority in December, reveals many federal MPs spent their time and money similarly to the rest of us during lockdown this year – that is, on books and video calls.
Politicians are able to claim office expenses, phone bills, technology gear, printing, newspapers and more. Those receipts are then published quarterly by the IPEA, and the most recent disclosures – for the July to September period – make fascinating reading.
IPEA has released the 1 July to 30 September 2020 expenditure reports for current and former parliamentarians. These are now online at https://t.co/0yp3MzdKOZ and will be available in CSV format on https://t.co/I9TrX2sAcw in approximately two weeks.
— IPEA (@ipeaAusGov) December 8, 2020
For instance, with large public gatherings banned or restricted for much of the year, politicians again embraced ‘virtual town halls’ to connect with residents.
The normal style of campaigning and listening to voter concerns had to be shelved, with expensive and complicated video or phone-conferencing programs allowing residents to dial in and talk to their MP.
As The New Daily revealed in September, many politicians turned to this option in the early pandemic stages.
In the latest disclosure period, the likes of Tim Ayres ($4000), John Alexander ($13,830), Patrick Conaghan ($7266), Barnaby Joyce ($3100), Amanda Rishworth ($2300) and Zali Steggall ($8771) all claimed expenses relating to virtual town halls.
It was also popular in lockdown Victoria, where Health Minister Greg Hunt ($11,850), Bill Shorten ($4750 for two sessions), Alan Tudge ($10,805), Ged Kearney ($6000 for two sessions), Tim Wilson ($15,678) Jane Hume ($8700) and Jason Wood ($14,228) also held virtual town halls.
Politicians also claimed daily newspaper deliveries and online news subscriptions.
Labor’s arts spokesperson Tony Burke, a diehard music tragic, claimed a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine, while Senator Mehreen Faruqi – the Greens’ anti-racism spokesperson – claimed books on How To Be an Antiracist and White Fragility.
Labor senator Jenny McAllister expensed How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference – an interesting title, considering her party’s ongoing infighting on how to deal with the crucial issue while not alienating its traditional base.
Another interesting book claimed by a Labor type was How to Win an Election, declared by Tanya Plibersek, the former ALP deputy leader and (if rumours are to be believed) a potential future leader.
Written by respected political academic Associate Professor Chris Wallace, it carries an endorsement from legendary press gallery journalist Laurie Oakes.
“Ten Commandments for politicians – are you listening Labor? – who have forgotten the basics,” Oakes wrote of the book in a review.
One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts charged The Red Trojan Horse: A Concise Analysis of Cultural Marxism to his expenses.
New assistant attorney-general Amanda Stoker claimed Right Thinking on Abortion, What Women Want: Fun Freedom and an End to Feminism and Climate Hysteria.
Labor shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, also seen as a potential future leader, expensed Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir A Bigger Picture.