Before famously declaring last year that he “ain’t spendin’” any more time on it, Bob Katter spent taxpayer money to campaign against same-sex marriage.
Mr Katter was one of at least nine federal politicians who racked up travel and accommodation costs related to the voluntary postal survey, according to analysis by The New Daily.
The maverick North Queensland MP claimed a flight from Townsville to Brisbane and ComCar costs ($729.82 in total) on September 22, the same day he spoke at a Coalition for Marriage event in Brisbane.
Following the postal survey, Mr Katter made international headlines when he said he would no longer discuss the topic “because every three months a person is torn to pieces by a crocodile in North Queensland”.
Mr Katter told The New Daily: “It would be very rare if ever I went from point A to point B without a number of engagements – we must be economic in our work commitments.
“The day that we stop from being allowed to fight the good fight is the day democracy dies, and it would be a good idea if you ask questions about the unemployment levels in North Queensland and the number of people with cases so sad in agriculture that they take their own lives.”
— Insiders ABC (@InsidersABC) November 18, 2017
Some politicians told The New Daily attending events and meetings for the campaign was considered parliamentary business, while others said those activities were not the primary reason for the travel.
Labor’s leader in the Senate Penny Wong was the biggest spender overall, claiming $2939.89 on flights, accommodation and car travel while attending ‘Yes’ campaign events and meeting with campaign representatives in Melbourne and Sydney on October 3 and 4.
Senator Wong, one of the most prominent faces of the ‘Yes’ campaign, is also understood to have attended a $65-a-head ALP marriage equality fundraiser while in Sydney. Proceeds went to “Labor’s YES Campaign for Marriage Equality and Rainbow activism”.
A spokesman said Senator Wong had a number of official engagements on the trip, including a meeting with Australians for Marriage Equality, and an interview with Sky News.
Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi was the biggest spender on the ‘No’ side, claiming $2323.36 in travelling allowance and flights from Adelaide to Sydney the day before he attended the ‘No’ campaign launch. He was approached for comment.
Tony Abbott, who was a key figure in the ‘No’ campaign, racked up at least $1719.46 in travel costs related to the campaign.
That included claiming travel costs for a trip to Brisbane, where he spoke at a Coalition for Marriage event, and to Hobart, where he also met with ‘No’ campaigners, and was later head-butted in the street.
A spokesman said the former prime minister’s attendance at the events “was in addition to pre-existing commitments”.
“Whenever travelling, Mr Abbott accepts a wide range of requests to ensure his work expenses are value for taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Two prominent ‘Yes’ campaigners, Liberals Dean Smith and Tim Wilson, did not charge the taxpayer to campaign, but racked up travel costs as members of the parliamentary ‘Yes’ committee.
Senator Smith, the committee’s chair, spent October 2-5 in Sydney attending the data centre in Moorebank, where the votes were sorted and scrutinised by both campaigns.
The trip, which cost taxpayers $2895.88, is understood to have been cleared by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority.
Mr Wilson, who claimed $1566.32 in travelling allowance and flights for an October 10 trip to Sydney, citing “same-sex marriage” on his claim, also visited the postal survey data centre as an official observer.
ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja attended the same Brisbane event as Mr Katter, charging the taxpayer $1234.96 in flights, car travel and accommodation. A spokeswoman said it “was an important public policy discussion on a bill which was to come before the Parliament and a national survey which was being undertaken”.
Other politicians who campaigned while on taxpayer-funded trips included Nationals senator Matt Canavan, who attended the ‘No’ campaign launch in Sydney while charging $994.19 on flights and accommodation, and Liberal frontbencher Michael Sukkar.
Mr Sukkar’s office told Buzzfeed he had conducted a meeting within his portfolio on the same October day he spoke at a ‘No’ campaign event in Sydney. The trip cost $1346.26.