It’s the one campaign costing that politicians don’t want to debate: Who is paying for Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten to fly around Australia campaigning in a chartered jet?
Despite millions of taxpayer dollars flowing to major political parties through public funding, you would be wrong if you assumed that the political donors are paying.
And that’s just the beginning of the campaign costs.
Until this election, there was a political convention that the leaders, ministers and shadow ministers did not claim nightly travel allowances of around $300 a night after the party’s official campaign launches.
But The New Daily has confirmed that is no longer the case.
With the audit of election expenses shifting to the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA), both sides of politics can travel on chartered and domestic flights and claim travel allowance all the way to election day.
That also includes the cost of hundreds of political staffers from around the country deployed to the Labor and Liberal Party headquarters in Sydney’s western suburbs and Brisbane, respectively.
As long as the staffers are “directed” to do this political work by MPs, they are deemed to be operating within the rules to claim travel allowance.
Who pays? The short answer is taxpayers.
Since the first federal election in 1901, which cost 50,000 British pounds, the cost of election has grown exponentially.
The 2016 double-dissolution election cost $286 million. But that’s just the cost of running the election – it doesn’t include the travel of the leaders or staff and travel allowances.
Many would argue it’s simply the cost of democracy.
But when The New Daily asked the Liberal Party to explain who paid for flights and political staffers and whether there are political lobbyists at HQ, it declined to provide a detailed response.
“Please refer to the caretaker conventions regarding distinction over which costs are claimed by, or paid for by parties,” a Liberal campaign spokesman said.
“All ministerial staff and ministers comply with the Lobbying Code of Conduct and their relevant ministerial standards (Statement of Ministerial Standards – Minister , Statement of Ministerial Staff Standards – Staff ).”
The Department of Finance declined to answer questions, arguing it was a matter for IPEA.
But IPEA pointed out that the special purpose flights were organised by the Defence Department.
The Defence Department referred The New Daily back to the Department of Finance, which administers the flights, returning the question to the department where it began.
The huge cost of traversing the country during the 2016 campaign is outlined by the Defence Department in a special Election Supplement.
Brace yourself for the #AusVotes19 tweets because I’m hitting the campaign trail with .@ScottMorrisonMP for @SkyNewsAust over the next couple of weeks and we are ready for take off! 🛫 (Note: plane for journos is much smaller but equally nice) pic.twitter.com/sSdLkqkNkp
— Annelise Nielsen (@annelisenews) April 11, 2019
On the first day alone flight costs of more than $30,000 were run up, including flying Barnaby Joyce home to Tamworth at a cost of more $7000.
The plane returned to Canberra empty, which is not unusual.
Flights for the travelling media contingent are traditionally met by media organisations, with costs divided among the journalists, photographers and camera operators on board.
But a chartered flight from Sydney to Perth – carrying the Prime Minister and his staff – regularly costs $20,000.