News State South Australia SA Ministers who incorrectly claimed expenses for staying in Adelaide were not in city

SA Ministers who incorrectly claimed expenses for staying in Adelaide were not in city

Agricultural Minister Tim Whetstone and Transport Minister Stephan Knoll. Photo: ABC News
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South Australian Ministers Tim Whetstone and Stephan Knoll have billed taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for regional, interstate and overseas travel, on the same days they incorrectly claimed an allowance to stay in Adelaide.

The ABC can also reveal on more than one occasion, Mr Whetstone made his incorrect claims of staying in Adelaide within days of returning from interstate or overseas travel.

One of those claims covered dates while the Riverland-based Agriculture Minister and his chief of staff were on a $32,000 study tour in the United States — a trip which saw taxpayers billed for a chauffeur-driven limousine and a set of Apple AirPods earphones.

Ministers Whetstone and Knoll are among three country Liberal MPs who together have agreed to repay more than $70,000 amid a deepening expenses scandal sparked by the release of a decade’s worth of records concerning the Country Members Accommodation Allowance.

Liberal backbencher Fraser Ellis will repay the biggest portion — $42,130 — but is yet to make public comment.

The $234 allowance is only payable to regional MPs who are required to spend a night in Adelaide on official business.

On Tuesday, Mr Whetstone admitted to wrongly claiming on 90 separate dates dating back to 2014, including 59 after he was sworn in as a Minister.

He will repay about $7,000, less than half the amount wrongly claimed, because he has since substituted incorrect dates for other valid official stays in Adelaide.

Premier Steven Marshall (left) has stood by Agriculture Minister Tim Whetstone. Photo: Twitter/Steven Marshall

Mr Knoll has admitted to wrongly claiming three nights of the allowance.

But he has agreed to repay more than $29,000 amid doubts over how MPs are required to incur actual expenditure to claim the allowance.

The Barossa-based MP has often stayed with his parents in Adelaide while claiming the allowance, but yesterday refused to say what expenses he faced while staying with them.

Tim Whetstone’s $32,000 overseas trip

Mr Whetstone incorrectly billed taxpayers almost $3,000 for a 12-night stay in Adelaide on dates while he was on a $32,299 study trip with his chief of staff in the United States.

Mr Whetstone submitted the incorrect expense claim for the Adelaide stay on August 1, 2018, just 12 days after returning home from overseas.

An audit of Mr Whetstone’s ministerial travel and credit card statements showed the Minister and his chief of staff, Simon Price, departed on the US trip on July 8, 2018, and returned to Australia on July 20.

The pair travelled to Texas, and Sacramento, the Napa Valley, San Francisco and Modesto, in California.

The travel documents show that taxpayers met the $32,299 cost, which included meals, accommodation, a diplomatic passport, car parking, tolls, fuel and airline lounge access.

Taxpayers were billed $1,628 for a chauffeured limousine for a single day in Texas, while $245 in meals were claimed without receipts.

Mr Whetstone speaks to the media at Old Parliament House yesterday. Photo: ABC News

Many of the expenses were met on Mr Whetstone’s personal-issue ministerial credit card, including a $229 purchase of a set of Apple AirPods for “communication and media”.

A further examination of Mr Whetstone’s records showed other instances where the Minister billed taxpayers for accommodation and flights on the same dates he was incorrectly claiming the Country Members Accommodation Allowance.

For instance, taxpayers were billed $1,565 for flights and accommodation to allow the Minister to attend meetings in Canberra from March 27-29, 2018.

The following day, Mr Whetstone personally signed off on a Country Members Accommodation Allowance claim form seeking allowance for several overnight stays in Adelaide, including on March 27 and 28.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Whetstone said he believed he had correctly completed the forms but his office identified the errors in a full audit of his claims dating back to 2010.

Stephan Knoll billed taxpayers for trips to Melbourne, Mount Gambier

Mr Knoll’s travel records show he incorrectly claimed allowance for an Adelaide stay on April 26, 2018, the same day he was attending a building ministers’ forum in Melbourne.

Taxpayers were billed $577 for his flights and a further $247 for his accommodation at the Stamford Plaza on Little Collins Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

Mr Knoll also charged a $59.35 expense at the hotel to his government credit card.

The Minister has also admitted to incorrectly claiming the Country Members Accommodation Allowance on May 8, 2019, while he was in Mount Gambier for a regional roads safety visit.

Taxpayers were billed $201 for the Minister’s accommodation at Lakes Resort, along with $369 for a flight.

Stephan Knoll (centre) in Bordertown with federal MP Tony Pasin (left) and local MP Nick McBride in a photo posted on May 9, 2019. Photo: Facebook/Stephan Knoll

Further questions over expenses

Ministers are also eligible to claim a nightly allowance of between $301 and $507 for meal and accommodation expenses they incur while travelling.

These allowances are paid to ministers by their own departments, and unlike credit card and travel records, are not proactively disclosed.

Both Mr Knoll and Mr Whetstone have told the ABC they did not claim these ministerial allowances for the travel listed in this story.

State Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said Premier Steven Marshall can “no longer claim these are merely administrative errors”.

“How can Steven Marshall tolerate one of his Ministers travelling to Texas, while claiming a taxpayer-funded accommodation allowance for staying in Adelaide?” Mr Malinauskas said.

“Steven Marshall must finally show leadership and sack his Ministers.”

-ABC