By Barry Tucker 29 August, 2014
The News media should be all over Tony Abbott’s latest expenses rort. The implications of this moral failure are more serious than sending warplanes to Iraq.
The affair was mentioned in newspapers, on TV and radio (I can confirm hearing it on the ABC RN Breakfast show). However, it was merely mentioned and then dropped as an issue.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told ABC’s RN he could not recall Abbott telling his party room colleagues that he staged a visit to the Peter MacCallum cancer clinic in order to claim expenses for attending a fund raiser in Melbourne the previous day. Mr Turnbull told RN: “He did not say that to the party room.”
However, long-time Canberra political journalist Michelle Grattan, in an article in TheConversation today, has confirmed that Abbott had told his party room meeting about the rort. Grattan has a reputation for careful fact checking.
Grattan wrote: “… Abbott said he’d had a Monday night fund raiser in Melbourne that was followed next morning by a visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to bring the trip within official entitlements”.
So, the news media mentioned the incident and has now moved on. I think this shows poor news judgment. When you consider the past fuss over MPs rorting their travel entitlements, the treatment handed out to former LNP MP Peter Slipper for accepting roles of Deputy Speaker and Speaker (he was shopped to the Federal Police for a $900 infringement, which normally would be handled quietly under the Minchin Protocol) and the widespread criticism of the government’s harsh 2014 budget, this open admission by Abbott becomes a serious news story.
The situation shows that the rorting continues and the news media is not prepared to hold the rorters to account.
It could be argued that Abbott simply continued his long-standing practice of arranging trips that have a multiple purpose in order to justify claiming an MP’s travel entitlements. In this case it is quite clear that Abbott arranged the visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Clinic in order to claim expenses for his visit to Melbourne for the previous day’s Liberal party fund raiser. The visit to the Peter Mac served no other practical purpose. He made an announcement about a $64 million package to enhance security against terrorism on Australian soil and had a Q&A with journalists. That could have been done by press release or by his deputy or another minister.
Abbott’s salary of more than $500,000 a year (plus benefits) is the highest in the western world (former Labor PMs Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd mark II received the same amount). The fact that he constantly tells lies, misleads the public and cheats to defraud the taxpayer tells us all we need to know about his moral values. It needs to be remembered that, as government leader, Abbott has the power to unilaterally commit Australian troops to war.
The federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, provides a similar example of rorting. The cigar smoking millionaire has brought down an extremely harsh budget, one that takes from the unemployed, the ill, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, parents and students while giving to wealthy individuals and industries. He says his budget is fair. Those who are hard up he calls “leaners”. Those who are well off he calls “lifters”.
Joe Hockey claims an MP’s accommodation expenses of $270 a night for sleeping in a $1.5 million Canberra home owned by family members. That’s $1,350 for five nights in what is virtually his own place. The taxpayer’s are buying this joint for the Hockey family.
Again, Hockey is merely taking advantage of the MPs entitlements as laid down in the rule book. While slamming those less well off as being “leaners”.
There is clearly something wrong here. That is why the news media is wrong to let go of this issue and of these two examples.
Abbott’s admission to the party room (stated in response to criticism for being one hour late for the party room meeting) is a clear statement of deliberate and premeditated fraud. Both Abbott and Hockey should be removed from office as quickly as possible in the best interest of the Parliament and the people.