Treasurer Joe Hockey has called on Speaker Bronwyn Bishop to explain why she cost taxpayers more than $5000 to travel 80km for a Liberal Party event at a golf club.
The Federal Parliamentary Speaker is under fire for using a charter helicopter to travel from Melbourne to Geelong in November 2014, to reportedly attend a liberal candidate’s fundraiser. A cab would have cost about $300.
Asked if Mrs Bishop’s use of entitlements passed the ‘sniff test’, the Treasurer said: “Instinctively, it doesn’t”.
“It is not a good look and the Speaker needs to explain the matter,” Mr Hockey told 2UE Radio on Thursday.
Mr Hockey said he understood the public anger over the affair.
However, he said it was a different matter to Peter Slipper, who faced calls to step down as Speaker by the Coalition over his use of entitlements.
Mr Hockey said people were entitled to call for Ms Bishop’s resignation.
But it was up to her to explain where the money went and how it was spent.
“I can only emphasise that the Speaker is the one that should explain the money,” Mr Hockey said.
The details were released by the Department of Finance in June as part of a six-month audit into the expenses racked up by serving and former federal politicians for the second part of 2014 – revealing Ms Bishop’s total spend was $398, 563.
She is ranked seventh out of the top 10 spenders for that period, and one of the biggest spenders in parliament if you leave out once-off office fit-out costs.
The documents also revealed that Mrs Bishop billed taxpayers almost $90,000 for a two-week European trip partly aimed at securing her a plum new job.
In 2014, Mrs Bishop ran for presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a democracy group based in Geneva, but didn’t make the cut.
According to the documents, during two weeks in October 2014, Mrs Bishop led a small parliamentary delegation to Italy, Belgium and Austria before heading to Switzerland at a cost of $88,084.
The report goes on to list other expenses, including her and two staff members spending $25,400 on accommodation and food, $42,400 on airfares and almost $14,000 on ground transport in just one fortnight. They also pocketed about $6000 in advances and for minor and related expenses.
When comparing other delegates on the same trip, Liberal MP Nola Marino spent $21,300, while Labor parliamentarians Glenn Sterle and Tony Zappia spent $18,666 and $13,249 respectively.
Mrs Bishop also notched up a $43,000 bill on a trip to Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Korea in September 2014.
The other MPs who spent more than Mrs Bishop during the same period was Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and frontbenchers Julie Bishop, Andrew Robb, Scott Morrison, Ian Macfarlane and Barnaby Joyce.
Mrs Bishop’s expenses are on top of her $341,000 salary.
Bishop’s ‘mystery’ flight
According to reports, Mrs Bishop travelled to Geelong from Melbourne in a chopper in November, for the day, despite the fact the 80km trip takes between 50 to 80 minutes to drive.
Mrs Bishop attended an event at the Clifton Springs Golf Club on November 5, according to club member Neil Remeeus.
The charter for the 80km trip cost $5,227.27, out of her total expenses for the last half of 2014 of just under $400,000.
The golf club’s Facebook page described Mrs Bishop’s arrival as “spectacular”. The club declined to comment about the event, saying only that it was a function.
Labor has written to Mrs Bishop seeking clarification over her use of taxpayers’ money for the flight.
“The Speaker likely clocked up more travel time by combining the 45 minute flight with road transfers to and from airports, than she would have driving for around an hour from Melbourne to the event in Geelong instead,” Labor’s waste watch spokesman Pat Conroy said on Wednesday.
“It’s for the Speaker to justify that this is part of her official duties, but it appears not to pass the pub test.
“This seems a curious decision which is not only prohibitively expensive, but also inefficient.”
The Hon. Bronwyn Bishop MP, ade a spectacular arrival at Clifton Springs Golf Club on Wednesday November 5th. pic.twitter.com/t5Nqv53HKx
— Neil Remeeus (@NeilRemeeus) November 6, 2014
The Speaker’s office said in a statement that all charter transport used by Mrs Bishop was done “in accordance with the guidelines and within entitlement”.
Department of Finance guidelines say charter transport can be approved by the Special Minister of State “where no scheduled commercial services exist or a senator or member would be unduly delayed by the use of scheduled services”.
Mrs Bishop took the charter aircraft from a Melbourne airport after landing on a commercial service from Queensland earlier that day. Mrs Bishop is entitled to use charter transport, including an aeroplane or helicopter for “office holder duties”.
— Clive Palmer (@CliveFPalmer) July 16, 2015
The Speaker’s spokesman issued a statement on Tuesday, with the office dodging questions about the details of the charter flight.
“All charter used by the Speaker is done in accordance with the guidelines and within entitlement,” Spokesman Damien Jones told News Corp.
Mrs Bishop also billed taxpayers an additional $213.50 for two Comcar trips in Victoria on the same day, the report revealed.
The House of Representatives Speaker has held office since November 2013.
Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos told Sky News he was not across the details, but defended Mrs Bishop.
“Bronwyn Bishop is a very responsible, long-serving politician and I’m sure she exercised her judgment in making that arrangement,” he said.
Greens electoral reform spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said the system was well overdue for an overhaul.
“There can be no justification for using this money to go to party fundraising events,” she told AAP.
“No one would argue this is justified.”
– with AAP