Political Expenses Scandal: Julie Bishop Billed Taxpayers for Polo Trip

Julie Bishop is the latest Turnbull government minister facing scrutiny over taxpayer-funded travel claims, amid growing calls for an overhaul of politicians’ travel expenses.

The Foreign Affairs Minister charged taxpayers $2716 to attend the Portsea Polo event on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in January last year as a guest of beer maker Peroni and car company Jeep.

On Wednesday, Ms Bishop’s office defended her expense claims to attend the exclusive event.

“The Minister was invited and attended in her official capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.”

Department of Finance records show Ms Bishop spent $2177 on flights from Perth to Melbourne via Sydney, claiming $416 for car travel and a further $123 for the MPs’ standard travel allowance.

Other guests at the event included sports stars, socialites, models and former prime minister Tony Abbott’s daughter, Frances Abbott.

Ms Bishop’s office did not confirm reports she was planning to attend the event again this weekend with her partner David Panton, as guest of Italian car giant Alfa Romeo.

It has also been revealed that three other MPs – two Turnbull government ministers and a Tasmanian senator – claimed thousands for a trip to the AFL grand final in 2013.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, whose department oversees politicians’ taxpayer-funded travel entitlements, charged $3533 for airfares for him and his wife to attend the game, the ABC reported.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo charged taxpayers $1102 for airfares, while Liberal senator David Bushby billed taxpayers $863 for his Hobart-Melbourne return flight.

On Tuesday, Fairfax Media reported Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester settled on an investment property while on a taxpayer-funded trip to Melbourne, where he also attended the Australian Open tennis.

According to Mr Chester’s register of interests, he bought a two-bedroom unit in Ivanhoe, in north-east Melbourne, while on official business on January 27, 2016. A spokeswoman said this was the date of the settlement for the property and that Mr Chester collected the keys to the unit on this date.

Mr Chester, then assistant defence minister, claimed travel allowance, worth $876, for January 26 and 27.

It follows the growing scandal around Health Minister Sussan Ley, who was forced to stand aside amid Finance Department investigations of trips she made to the Gold Coast, including a trip in which she bought an $800,000 apartment.

The federal government has vowed to make changes to the entitlements in the first half of 2017 based on recommendations from a review published early last year.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has reiterated calls for a national anti- corruption body that will in part scrutinise politicians’ expense claims.

Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon also wants an independent watchdog, as well as real-time disclosure of claims and harsher penalties for those who exploit the rules.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson told the Seven Network on Wednesday the politicians should pay back the money as well as copping a “heavy fine”.

“We have to be responsible for the money we spend on our travel or flights that are taken and not to visit these functions that are funded for donations to the political party or their campaigns. It is wrong.”

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm said the primary purpose of the expense had to be related to the job.

“We need to be very conscious of the fact it is not our money we are spending,” he told Seven.

“The committee has recommended that the word ‘entitlements’ be dropped and the phrase ‘expense of jobs’ be used instead,” he said.

Senator Hanson said she had not seen the government’s recommendations made by an independent review 11 months ago after Bronwyn Bishop’s expenses scandal.

Asked about the travel expenses controversy on Wednesday, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said the government was taking the 2016 review seriously and had implemented three of its recommendations.

“Most importantly, that’s going to be providing greater definition of what a legitimate work expense is for parliamentarians, so I think that will be by the Australian community,” he said.