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April 17, 2021

MP calls for audit of all parliamentary travel claims

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Independent MP Andrew Wilkie wants an audit of all parliamentary travel claims for the past five years with doubtful lodgments paid back to Treasury.

Following the resignation of Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker in the lower house over a string of questionable travel claims, news of further doubtful expenses by Labor’s Tony Burke has inspired Mr Wilkie to call for a far-reaching investigation.

“It has become very clear over the last few weeks that there is indeed widespread misuse of parliamentary travel entitlements,” he told reporters in Hobart on Tuesday.

Mr Wilkie has written to the Department of Finance secretary asking for an audit of all travel expenses claimed by MPs and senators over the current and previous parliaments, covering some five years.

“Regrettably it seems to be a widespread practice where (MPs) and senators will trip around and use pretty flimsy excuses as official cover,” he said.

“They might meet with a parliamentary colleague, they might meet with a journalist and that becomes the reason for their trip.”

He said there should be a clear explanation provided for every trip and where that has not been the case politicians should be required to pay back the money to Treasury.

In some cases, the Australian Federal Police might be called in to investigate the matter as a fraud, Mr Wilkie added.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced a review of parliamentary entitlements that he hopes will make the system fairer, accountable and transparent.

But Mr Wilkie said the probe needs to go deeper.

“I don’t accept the line from the prime minister that there is simply a gap between the rules and community expectations and thereby all of these episodes of dodgy travel are somehow okay and we just need to improve things in the future.”

Mr Wilkie is confident his own travel expenses would stand up to scrutiny under his proposed audit.

Meanwhile, Labor frontbencher Tony Burke has come under fire for some of his trips.

Reports indicate Mr Burke booked his family on a taxpayer-funded business class holiday to Uluru and also went to a Robbie Williams concert on the public purse.

Mr Burke could have asked bureaucrats to fly his family economy for the 2012 Uluru trip, but instead opted for business class at a cost of $6500, The Australian reports on Wednesday.

The Labor MP is also facing claims he charged taxpayers to travel to a Robbie Williams concert last year, The Courier Mail reports.

Mr Burke says the concert was work-related because he met with the promoter as part of his business as an opposition MP.

He has also defended the Uluru trip, with a spokesman saying the then-environment minister had meetings at the time of the trip with members of the Mutitjulu community and the managers and rangers of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The government says Mr Burke should be considering his position given he’s now had to refund the cost of numerous times trips taken over the years.

Parliamentary secretary Alan Tudge says the allegations against the manager of opposition business smacks of “classic Labor hypocrisy”.

“It seems that the standards demanded by him of the government MPs don’t apply to himself,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

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