Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pulled out of an appearance at a glamorous Victorian social event following revelations she charged taxpayers $11,006 to attend several high-profile social events from 2014 to 2015.
Ms Bishop’s Polo no-show occurred on the same day influential Australians called for a federal anti-corruption watchdog to be fast-tracked.
At the same time there is scrutiny over federal MP Kevin Andrews’s partly taxpayer-funded trip to the US, and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann billing taxpayers more than $23,000 for weekend trips to the beach resort town of Broome with his wife over a five-year period.
Ms Bishop and her partner, David Panton, were scheduled to appear at the Alfa Romeo marquee at the Portsea Polo on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, but cancelled their appearance last minute.
But Ms Bishop’s ministerial obligations have been questioned over the past week after Department of Finance travel reports showed she charged taxpayers thousands to attend Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival in 2015 and the Portsea Polo in 2015 and 2016.
Ms Bishop claimed a trip to the 2015 Carnival 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.
The ABC reported the Foreign Minister charged taxpayers $2716 to attend the Portsea Polo on “official ministerial business” in 2016.
She also attended the same event in 2015, as a guest of hedge fund company Qato Capital, costing $2820 in flights, a travel allowance and a Commonwealth car.
— Georgia Main (@georgiamain7) January 14, 2017
There is officially no more white lace left in the world- it's all at #portseapolo
— Alana Schetzer (@schetzer) January 14, 2017
Cormann and Andrews bill taxpayers for trips
Cormann, the minister responsible for keeping government spending under control, and his wife made five taxpayer-funded trips to Broome on weekends for electorate business between 2010 and 2014, Fairfax media reports.
The Western Australian senator racked up bills of $23,088 for the five trips.
A spokeswoman for Senator Cormann said all his travel was “undertaken within the applicable rules on work expenses and has at all times been appropriately declared”.
“Senator Cormann’s job as a senator for Western Australia necessarily involves travel across his very large electorate to attend functions and meet with constituents, business and community stakeholders,” the spokeswoman said.
“Inevitably, much of the travel and attendance at functions and events in the electorate, whether in Perth or across regional WA, occurs Fridays to Sundays, when Senator Cormann has returned back to his home state from interstate parliamentary work commitments.”
On Saturday it was revealed Mr Andrews used taxpayer funds to pay for a trip to the United States during which he attended a prayer breakfast and delivered a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington DC.
Fairfax reported the member for Menzies travelled to the US in February 2016, drawing $1855 from his taxpayer-funded “study allowance” to cover costs.
The allowance has since been phased out.
As part of his trip, Mr Andrews appeared at the 64th annual National Prayer Breakfast, which was addressed by US president Barack Obama.
In a report, Mr Andrews said the breakfast was a “unique opportunity to meet, within a short space of time, political, civic and business leaders from the US and internationally”.
Politicians’ expense claims have been a hot topic in recent days after former health minister Sussan Ley resigned from the front bench on Friday, following revelations she had bought property on the Gold Coast during a taxpayer-funded trip.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has flagged a new independent authority will be established to monitor work expenses of federal politicians, a move supported by minor parties and crossbenchers, to make MPs’ taxpayer-funded expenses more transparent.
Calls for anti-corruption watchdog
After Ms Ley’s resignation, a raft of high-profile Australians signed an open letter calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to immediately establish a federal anti-corruption watchdog.
The letter attracted more than 40 signatories including former WA premier Geoff Gallop and Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney, along with prosecutors, lawyers and academics.
The signatories say the independent watchdog will help restore integrity, accountability and trust in the federal parliament and public service.
“The public is sick and tired of the lack of accountability revealed by repeated scandals involving federal politicians and others,” the letter says.
“It’s time to create an independent anti-corruption watchdog to investigate and expose corruption and serious misconduct at the federal level, including among federal parliamentarians.”
– with AAP, ABC