“Advisors” suggested using publications allowance for gifts: Randall

In an interview for today’s The West Australian, WA Liberal MP Don Randall addresses the continuing controversy over his allowance claims, including the claim that led to his reimbursing over $5000 for a trip to Cairns.

During the interview, he addressed the issue of his use of the publications allowance to purchase such items as the Guinness Book of Records:

Mr Randall said his purchase of $2500 of books, including Broadway Musicals Show by Show and six copies of John Howard’s autobiography Lazarus Rising, was within entitlement, with most books given as gifts to children in the electorate, something he claimed was a widespread practice.

Interestingly, he said that the practice was a Coalition wide recommendation from unnamed advisors (whether political or departmental is left unstated):

 “It was something that was suggested to members of the coalition . . . by those who advise us on these matters – you can speculate on who that is”.

Setting aside the implication that there are names to be named if Randall believes it comes to it, it gives the appearance of Coalition MPs being given strategic advice on using their entitlements to their broader electoral advantage.

If so, the advice was taken up with considerable enthusiasm by a number of Coalition MPs.

The most enthusiastic seems to be Queensland LNP MP, Scott Buchholz, the Member for Wright, who splurged $2272.70 in June 2011 on 268 books , including such titles as Bumble the Bee Learns About Seasons, Peppa Pig George’s Birthday Sticker Story, five copies of Dora the Explorer: Hide and Seek, and 10 copies of Paddington and the Disappearing Sandwich.

In June 2012, he submitted a claim for nearly 300 books – mostly children’s titles again – for a total of just over $2500. In total, over $4700 on more than 500 children’s books in just 2 months. Conveniently, the purchases were made in June each year, essentially soaking up any unspent allowance as the financial year drew to a close.

Ken O’Dowd, another Queensland MP,  used his allowance to purchase more than 120 books in 2012, including 24 Disney story books (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, Cars, Winnie The Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Monsters Inc), along with the Guinness Book of Records, Grace Kelly Style, The Very Happy Caterpillar and Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble. A more complete list of his purchases can be found here.

Barry Haase, who until the 2013 was the Liberal MP for Durack, was not particularly imaginative when it came to buying these (presumed) gifts. In the July-December 2012 period, he claimed for 20 copies of the Guinness Book of Records (at a total cost of $545.27), having claimed for 15 copies of the Guinness tome the previous year (at a total cost of $449.86).

The advisors seem to have stretched the test of the publications allowance being for purchases “for purposes related  to Parliamentary, electorate or official business” to remarkable lengths; permitting the allowance to be expended on gifts for constituents.

Randall told the West Australian he thought the use of the publications allowance for gift buying was justified:

“I would have thought that money is better being used giving children in the electorate a book prize rather than on a whole lot of Financial Reviews or Economist magazines or BRWs sitting on my desk that are of very little use to anyone.”

Except that Randall still claimed for a “whole lot of Financial Reviews [and] Economist magazines” that apparently “sit on his desk and are of very little use to anyone”.

And there was always the option of giving the taxpayer the gift of a little relief on the public purse.

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