Scott Morrison has grounded “the member for Manila”, George Christensen, after revelations the Queensland MP spent more days overseas in recent years than he spent in Parliament House.
The high-profile backbencher insists he’s the victim of a “smear campaign” after reports he spent 294 days in the Philippines in a four-year period.
The travel was privately funded and did not involve taxpayer expenses.
The LNP backbencher said he was involved in a charity working for children in wheelchairs, and later met his fiancee in the Philippines.
But the Prime Minister has declared the travel “hasn’t happened under my watch”.
“All I can say is George hasn’t spent a cent … a day in the Philippines since I’ve been Prime Minister’,” he said on Wednesday.
“Not a day. I endeavoured to contact him yesterday actually, but we were both travelling at the time – in Australia, I should stress – and I’ve spoken to the leader of the National Party about it and he’s making comments about this as well.
“I can tell you it hasn’t happened on my watch. I expect members to be in their electorates doing their job.”
When the story broke earlier this year, it was revealed that the federal police had briefed the government about concerns Mr Christensen’s constant travel overseas could expose him to blackmail risks.
Mr Christensen confirmed he was the person referred to in reports about a government MP making multiple trips to the region that prompted police to investigate. He called the speculation a “disgusting smear campaign”.
“All the innuendo is false,” Mr Christensen told News Corp at the time.
Highly defamatory allegations have been made in a southern newspaper in recent days as part of disgusting smear campaign…
Mr Morrison refused to comment on the AFP briefing.
“I don’t comment on whether AFP briefings exist or don’t exist. I think that would be a very reckless thing for a prime minister to do in any situation,” Mr Morrison said.
Asked if he knew what Mr Christensen was doing in Manila, Mr Morrison said it was private.
“I don’t go into his private business. He wasn’t travelling there officially, as my understanding was, and so what he does in his private time is a matter for him,” he said.
According to News Corp, Mr Christensen spent 72 days in the Philippines in 2016 and 2017 – and 51 days in Canberra in 2016 and 64 in 2017.
Queensland Nationals frontbencher Matt Canavan said no taxpayer money was involved in Mr Christensen’s travel.
“I think this is a massive beat-up that’s an invasion of George’s privacy as well,” he told Sky News.
“George is an extremely committed local member.”
But Labor’s Murray Watt said questions remained.
“Apparently Mr Christensen’s constant travel has even earned him the nickname ‘the member for Manila’ among colleagues, who have raised concerns at his continued absences from his marginal seat,” Senator Watt said.
“How can Mr Christensen justify such regular and extended absences from work? Mr Christensen says he stands up for North Queensland, but how can he do that, when he’s never there?”