Federal Labor MP Michael Danby charged taxpayers almost $15,000 for flights and other expenses linked to six trips to sunny Queensland with his wife over several years, Fairfax Media can reveal.
On three of those trips – with expenditure totalling nearly $7500 – Mr Danby conducted no parliamentary business at all but still used public money for flights, Commonwealth limousines and taxis.
MP attacks journalist using taxpayer money
Labor MP Michael Danby takes out two ads criticising the ABC, singling out Sophie McNeill’s coverage of Israel and Palestine.
The Labor MP, who holds the marginal inner-city seat of Melbourne Ports, said he reimbursed the Commonwealth last year for those three trips after auditing his own expenses.
On another three trips to the Gold Coast, which remain on the public purse, Mr Danby cited official business such as attending union functions, meeting a former Queensland Labor colleague and addressing a community group. The trips lasted four to six days, and Mr Danby paid for the accommodation and meals on all of them. Taxpayers paid for Mr Danby’s wife, lawyer Amanda Mendes Da Costa, to accompany him, which a spokesman said was in accordance with the rules.
In October 2009, Mr Danby flew to Brisbane with his wife for an opening ceremony and meetings with Con Sciacca, a former Labor MP voted out of Parliament five years earlier. Six days later, they flew out of the Gold Coast back to Melbourne. The total cost of transport was $2275.20.
The following year, he swapped Melbourne’s winter for a work-free week on the Gold Coast with family, at a cost of $1989.33. Mr Danby’s office said those charges have now been repaid.
Mr Danby said his February 2011 Gold Coast sojourn was primarily to meet again with Mr Sciacca, and also to attend the Australian Workers Union’s 125th anniversary party in Broadbeach, where he remained for four days. He returned to the Gold Coast six months later to speak at a Jewish community dinner and protest the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, also on the taxpayers’ dollar.
He said the taxpayer charges resulted from errors made by his office, because he used the same booking agent for personal and business travel. But the errors remained on the system for up to seven years, until Mr Danby was spooked by the expenses scandal that brought down former health minister Sussan Ley in January 2017.
“Politicians had been castigated for incorrect use of travel and, like a lot of MPs, Michael wanted to be satisfied that the processes in his own office were faultless,” a spokesman explained. He said Mr Danby’s wife travelled with him in accordance with the rules.
Mr Danby is a backbencher from Melbourne and has never held a senior role during his 20 years in federal Parliament. He was briefly parliamentary secretary for the arts during Kevin Rudd’s 2013 resurrection, and also served in shadow parliamentary secretary roles from 2013 to 2016. He is a key ally of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and major player in the Victorian ALP’s Right faction.
It appears Mr Danby’s Queensland travel ceased after the Gold Coast trip of January 2015. In July of that year, the former Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop was publicly shamed and later forced to step down as Speaker after it was revealed she took a taxpayer-funded helicopter flight to a party fundraiser.
However, as recently as September, Mr Danby used $4574 of taxpayers’ money to design and book two advertisements in the Australian Jewish News criticising the work of ABC journalist Sophie McNeill. Mr Shorten was reportedly “deeply unimpressed” about the MP’s actions.
It was also revealed Mr Danby took a week’s sick leave shortly after the 2016 election, while Parliament was sitting, and spent the time travelling in Israel. His wife, Ms Da Costa, was recently appointed to a lucrative taxpayer-funded role on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. There is no suggestion Ms Da Costa’s appointment was influenced by Mr Danby’s position.