MP travel claims and elections: Were the rules broken or stretched?

In a series of Deirdre Chambers-like coincidences, at least three parliamentarians made claims for travel and travel allowances that coincided with election activities in Queensland and NSW towards the end of 2017.

Labor MP (and former Treasurer) Wayne Swan and Pauline Hanson One Nation Senator Brian Burston made claims for tax payer funded travel to or around Queensland on the weekend of that state’s election in November 2017.

The following week, Nationals Senator for NSW, John Williams, claimed travelling allowance for an overnight stay in Tamworth on the evening of the by-election in New England that saw Barnaby Joyce returned to Parliament after his disqualification in the High Court.

Travel rules for Commonwealth MPs, while quite generous, do provide some sharp cut offs around business that can’t be characterised as parliamentary, executive or official business, but rather takes on a patina more consistent with that of party activity.

The Handbook in effect for the relevant period says of claims for travel:

Senators and Members are responsible for ensuring that any travel at Commonwealth expense is undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the relevant legislation, that is, in most circumstances only for Parliamentary, electorate or official business, but not party business

Swan Song

Former Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, spoke at a Melbourne ALP event on the evening of Friday 24 November to honour Jenny Macklin’s contribution to the election of the Rudd Government in 2007 – 10 years before.

Swan’s speech on the occasion is a generous encomium to Ms Macklin.

According to The Australian, Anthony Albanese reportedly characterised this Macklin event as a party fundraiser similar to one he was holding a week later in Sydney.

However, with polling day in Queensland on Saturday, November 25, Swan returned to Queensland. This he did with an $1025 flight from Melbourne to Brisbane on election day.

On arrival in Queensland, Swan was free to attend state polling places in his electorate of Lilley. like Nundah State School

Additionally, Swan used the ComCar service in Melbourne and Brisbane on the Friday and Saturday. These three trips amount to a total of $309.80.

Accordingly the cost of travel involved in Melbourne and returning to Queensland on election day amounted to $1335.40.

Burston At the Seems

Similary, Brian Burston, NSW Senator for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party travelled to Queensland the weekend of the Queensland election, and made it a family affair.

Burston flew from Sydney to Maroochydore on election eve, Friday November 24. This flight cost $245.45.

Maroocyhdore is located close to the state seat of Buderim, where One Nation Queensland Parliamentary Leader, Steve Dickson, was fighting to keep the seat he’d won as an LNP candidate at the 2015 election.

Burston incurred a $391.40 Comcar item in Brisbane on this day.

On election day Burston claimed three short trips on CabCharge, ranging in cost from $14.10 through $14.58 to $19.47. A further claim is made in Brisbane on the day after the election for a CabCharge at $37.12.

Images from Brian Burston’s Facebook indicate he campaigned in Buderim on election day

 

He returned to Sydney on Sunday, on a flight costing $287.24, and flew on from there to Canberra for the next sitting week.

Burston’s Queensland claims for travel to, from and while in Queensland for the election weekend amounts to $1009.36.

From the IPEA record, there is no claim for accommodation for the weekend stay of Burston and his family member in Queensland.

A family member, on Burston’s account, also travelled to Maroochydore from Sydney on the Friday (on a flight costing $285.45 – $40 dearer than Burston’s cost for the same leg), and flew back to Sydney on the Sunday (on a flight costing $287.24, the same as Burston’s for that leg), and continued to Canberra for the sitting week.

On the Thursday before leaving for Queensland, this family member ran up a $351.30 Comcar bill in Sydney.

Senator Williams and the New England by-election

The week after the Queensland state election saw the Federal by-election for the seat of New England, caused by Barnaby Joyce’s disqualification owing to his dual citizenship with New Zealand.

NSW Nationals Senator John Williams claimed travelling allowance for his stay in Tamworth on the night of the by-election, held on 2 December, claiming it as electorate business. Tamworth was host to Joyce’s campaign office and the Nationals’ victory night celebrations.

Parliamentary rules allow for travelling allowance to be claimed where a member is away from their home base travelling to Canberra for sittings of Parliament. Parliament was due to sit the Monday after the by-election. Williams travelled to Canberra on the Sunday ahead of the sitting week.

However, Senator William’s claim for travel allowance for an overnight stay in Tamworth seems to fall foul of the provision that a Senator was not entitled to claim for a stay if their home base is in the same electorate as the place for which the claim is made. Williams has nominated Inverell as his home base, which falls within New England, as is the case for Tamworth.

 

Each of the claims might have been rationalised by other business, but it does appear that the relevant election was a significant factor in the circumstances of the travel or overnight stay.

 

 

 

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