Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is facing fresh questions over her “official ministerial business” at five events including Derby Day, the Melbourne Cup and the rugby.
Department of Finance travel reports reveal Ms Bishop charged taxpayers $11,006 to attend the events in 2014 and 2015.
The Spring Racing Carnival in 2015 cost taxpayers $4345.
Ms Bishop and her partner David Panton mingled with celebrities and business figures in exclusive marquees on Derby Day and Melbourne Cup Day as guests of an airline company and an alcohol company.
Ms Bishop claimed the trip as “official ministerial business” and charged taxpayers $1344 in flights, $999 for a Commonwealth car, $876 in a travel allowance and $1235 for Mr Panton’s flights.
On Tuesday, the ABC revealed the Foreign Minister charged $2716 to attend the Portsea Polo on “official ministerial business” in 2016.
She also attended the Portsea Polo in 2015, as a guest of hedge fund company Qato Capital.
Department of Finance reports show that trip cost $2820 in flights, a travel allowance and a Commonwealth car.
Ms Bishop’s office has repeatedly refused to answer any questions about the events, but has issued a short statement.
“The Minister was invited and attended in her official capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party,” it read.
Why are we hearing so much about politicians’ travel?
Politicians’ travel has been in the spotlight since it emerged Health Minister Sussan Ley purchased a luxury Gold Coast apartment while on a taxpayer-funded work trip.
Ms Ley has been stood aside from her ministerial duties pending the outcome of two separate investigations into her travel claims.
It is understood her future in the Cabinet could be decided as early as next week.
The issue prompted the ABC to further investigate three years’ worth of travel claimed by politicians, by matching what they have declared in the register of interests to the travel reports published by the Department of Finance.
It was also revealed Tasmanian Senator David Bushby, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo billed for their trip to the AFL Grand Final in 2013, where they were guests of the National Australia Bank.
The three say they had official business in Melbourne before or after the match.
The ABC also uncovered the latest travel claimed by Ms Bishop. Her office declined to answer specific questions.
The ABC has also investigated the travel claims of the opposition but found no major previously unreported discrepancies over the past three years.
Can they keep claiming like this?
The current rules about what can be claimed are opaque and complex, and don’t clearly define what constitutes “official business”.
After former speaker Bronwyn Bishop used a taxpayer-funded helicopter to travel from Melbourne to Geelong, the government ordered a review of the rules.
The review delivered a scathing assessment of the current rules.
“The terms ‘parliamentary’, ‘electorate’, and ‘official’ business, and eligibility criteria for over 50 expenses, are not properly defined or commonly understood,” it said.
“Every parliamentarian is expected, though cannot be legally compelled, to certify that a work expense has been used for parliamentary or electorate or official purposes.
“It is little wonder that parliamentarians and the wider community find the system complex and perplexing.”
The federal government has promised to make changes to the parliamentary entitlements system in the first six months of the year.
Until then, travel claims like those uncovered by the ABC appear to be completely within the rules.