Globetrotting MP George Christensen has referred himself to the independent parliamentary expenses watchdog to clear his name of allegations he used $3000 of taxpayers’ money to connect with flights to the Philippines.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has previously grounded the marginal seat MP after it was claimed he had spent more time overseas than in Parliament, welcomed the self-referral.
“He’s happy to have himself subjected to that independent scrutiny and that’s why we have such a commission, to inquire into exactly these questions,” Mr Morrison said.
“That will be assessed and then I have no doubt George will abide by the ruling handed down. We have an independent process for people’s expenditure to be examined. It will say whether it’s within the rules. That’s what the independent commission process will determine”.
Last year, “Sugar Daddy” Nationals MP Andrew Broad voluntarily repaid taxpayers’ money he used to connect with a flight to Hong Kong. He had paid for privately the international travel and accommodation on a trip where he also caught up with a woman he met on a dating website.
Mr Broad is not standing in the May federal election.
Mr Christensen, who has earned the nickname “the member for Manila” from colleagues for his frequent trips to Asia, has previously insisted he paid for his journeys privately.
But he faces claims that he used taxpayer money for domestic flights to connect with international flights from Brisbane and Sydney.
On Wednesday, News Corp politics reporter Anthony Galloway pointed out that a tweet from Mr Christensen’s account criticising colleagues who billed taxpayers for private travel had been sent while the MP was himself away, again in the Philippines.
The MP’s tweet later appeared to have disappeared.
News Corp reported that Mr Christensen charged the public purse $3069.45 for five domestic flights between Canberra and other Australian cities that linked up with his overseas flights.
“I am absolutely confident that the travel was undertaken within the rules,” he said in a statement.
“But to remove any doubt, I will refer the matter to the Independent Parliamentary Budget Expenses Authority today so this issue does not distract from the things that matter in Dawson – like Labor attacks on coal mining jobs, farming and fishing.”
Statement from George Christensen today. pic.twitter.com/cPHuk0yCy0
— rob harris (@rharris334) April 17, 2019
Mr Christensen holds his northern Queensland seat for the LNP by a 3.4 per cent. There are concerns the controversy about his international travel could hurt his chances in the May 18 election.
Mr Christensen has a Filipina fiancée, April Asuncion. He has said his frequent trips to Asia before meeting her were for church and charity work.
The federal police have previously confirmed they have investigated Mr Christensen’s regular travel and cash transfers to the Philippines. The MP dismissed those concerns as “a smear”, saying they were for charities and to see Ms Asuncion’s family.
Senior members of the government, including Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce and Peter Dutton, were briefed on the investigation at the time.
It has previously been revealed that Mr Christensen spent 294 days in the Philippines between 2014 and 2018.
The flights he booked to connect with international flights in Sydney or Brisbane followed parliamentary sitting weeks.
Instead of flying back to his home base of Mackay from parliament, Mr Christensen used his entitlements to connect with international flights to Manila.
According to News Corp, he charged taxpayers to fly from Canberra to Brisbane on September 5, 2014. He then left for a fortnight in Manila.
On February 12, 2015, he flew from Canberra to Brisbane, on a business-class ticket costing $688.65, before connecting with a flight to the Philippines.
On August 20, 2015, he flew from Canberra to Brisbane, at a cost of $763.74, to connect for a five-day trip to the Philippines.
In June 2017, he caught flew from Canberra to Sydney, at a cost of $121.30, before connecting with a flight to the Philippines.
On June 1, 2018, an $877.01 flight from Canberra to Brisbane connected Mr Christensen with a flight to the Philippines.
I have just got back on deck today after recuperating from weight loss surgery. I decided for my own health and to…
“Big George”, as he is also known to his colleagues, also previously travelled to Malaysia at private expense to undergo radical weight loss surgery to remove 85 per cent of his stomach. He is now substantially smaller than the 175 kilograms he once weighed.
That trip was organised by medical tourism company Absolute Beauty Asia, which Mr Christensen has conceded “sounds like I went to Malaysia for a boob job’’.