Federal Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert has blamed “connectivity issues” for spending more than $2000 a month on getting the internet at his Gold Coast home in the past quarter – and billing the cost to taxpayers.
Mr Robert’s May bill alone totalled $2832, according to a Fairfax Media report on Friday.
Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority records show the vast majority of other MPs spent less than $300 a month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday he had asked his Special Minister of State, Alex Hawke, to investigate Mr Robert’s hefty internet bills.
The Queensland Liberal MP said that connectivity issues were behind the high charges.
Late on Friday, Mr Robert released a statement saying his home had poor broadband connectivity at the time, and 4G home Wi-Fi was his only option for reliable and stable internet access.
“My internet, like many in semi-rural areas, was previously unreliable, which interfered with my ability to perform my parliamentary and ministerial duties,” he said.
“The NBN is now being rolled out in my local area and I have a connection appointment booked in. When installed, this will result in an immediate drop in costs to a level similar to other parliamentarians.”
Mr Robert said he used about 300 gigabytes of data in May, with the high bill due to having to pay for extra data after exceeding his 50GB limit.
Three hundred gigabytes equates to about 100 hours of streaming high definition shows, 3000 hours of online gaming or streaming music for about 2600 hours.
Fairfax reported that Mr Robert had been charging taxpayers more than $1000 a month for data at his home since 2016.
His bill for December 2017 was $1859, followed by $186 in January, $1813 in February, $1686 in March and then $2704 for April.
Mr Robert has a master’s degree in information technology and was chief executive of GMT Recruitment, an IT recruiter, before he entered parliament in 2007.
He was dumped from the Coalition ministry by Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 after a scandal over a “private” trip to Beijing – when he attended an event to celebrate a deal involving an Australian mining company headed by a Liberal Party donor.
Scott Morrison appointed Mr Robert assistant treasurer in his August reshuffle after replacing Mr Turnbull as Prime Minister.
Opposition communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said an explanation was needed.
“Stuart Robert needs to explain why taxpayers are forking out thousands of dollars every month for his internet access, when alternative options are available at a fraction of the cost,” she said.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News that such issues were administered “at arm’s length” by the Department of Finance.
“Every member of parliament should use their work expense arrangements appropriately and carefully,” he said.
“I’m going to let Stuart explain the circumstances and I believe he has.”
– with AAP