Nationals deputy leader and Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie campaigned for Barnaby Joyce during the New England byelection on a $2500 taxpayer-funded visit to Tamworth she claimed was “electorate business”.
The New Daily can reveal it was one of two taxpayer-funded trips Senator McKenzie took to New England during the byelection sparked by Mr Joyce’s dual citizenship, with a second trip a few days later costing a further $900 in return flights from Canberra.
Travel entitlement guidelines state claims must be for parliamentary, electorate or official business, with the only partisan business allowed being official events such as party room meetings and national conferences.
Senator McKenzie maintained on Wednesday all her expense claims were within the rules.
During the second visit, Senator McKenzie, then chair of a parliamentary trade committee, gave a speech to AusTrade, and also attended a Department of Agriculture and Water Resources conference.
But the then-Victorian backbencher’s first visit to the New South Wales town for “electorate business” appears to hinge on a speech she gave to the Dairy Farmers Milk Co-Operative on November 9.
Senator McKenzie claimed travelling allowance for two nights in Tamworth on November 9-10, costing $578, according to documents released on Wednesday by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority.
She charged taxpayers $1411.13 for flights from Adelaide to Tamworth via Sydney on November 9 and $639.30 for a flight on November 12 back to the NSW capital.
Senator McKenzie tweeted on November 10 that she had been on the campaign trail with Young Nationals members.
— Senator McKenzie (@senbmckenzie) November 10, 2017
On the first day of her Tamworth trip, Senator McKenzie spoke at a Dairy Farmers Milk Co-Operative event, tagging Mr Joyce in a Twitter post about the speech.
On November 11, she attended a Pro Bull Riders event, tweeting an image with the hashtag #backingbarnaby, though she did not claim travelling allowance on either November 11-12, while on November 12, she visited the Tamworth Pistol Club for an event to promote firearm safety.
— Ella Smith (@ellarbsmith) November 12, 2017
A few days later, Senator McKenzie was back in Tamworth, charging taxpayers for return flights from Canberra on November 14-15.
A tweet from Senator McKenzie on November 15 shows she again campaigned for Mr Joyce on her quick trip to the electorate.
She did not claim travel allowance on this second trip, instead claiming travelling allowance to stay in Canberra over that parliamentary sitting week.
— Senator McKenzie (@senbmckenzie) November 15, 2017
Senator McKenzie’s office refused to answer questions about the claims, but maintained they were within parliamentary guidelines.
“Travel undertaken by the senator in November 2017 was within entitlements specified under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act,” a spokeswoman told The New Daily.
Senator McKenzie, who was elected Nationals deputy leader and appointed Minister for Sport, Rural Health and Regional Communications in December, has previously come under fire over her travel claims.
The Bendigo-based politician was criticised for charging taxpayers $2279.67 to attend a Shooting Australia awards ceremony in Sydney last year, which she also described as “electorate business”.
She defended the claim, saying it was within the rules because she serves as chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting group.
Parliamentary friends groups “are not considered Parliamentary Committee business”, according to the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority.
She also refused to explain why she charged taxpayers for weekend flights to the Gold Coast in September 2014.
In December, the Victorian was also forced to update her register of interests after failing to disclose a free flight from the regional airline REX to campaign for Mr Joyce.