Trip claim ‘beyond expectations’: Burke
Federal Labor frontbencher Tony Burke has admitted claiming taxpayer money to fly his children business class to Uluru was “beyond community expectations”.
But he says it was within the rules and he’s referred all of his expenses to the Finance Department for double-checking.
“No one can satisfy an argument that says that kids should have been flying business class and I accept that argument absolutely,” Mr Burke told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
“There is a justifiable expectation that that was unnecessary and shouldn’t have happened.”
Mr Burke’s admission came as Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had no problem with MPs taking taxpayer-funded cars to party fundraisers, but not luxury helicopters as in the case of former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.
The prime minister attended a Liberal fundraiser in Victoria on Wednesday night, taking a car and a police escort.
“Sure, it raised some money for the local party, but it was an opportunity to learn more about the way our country works,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Geelong on Thursday.
Mr Burke said that just as Liberal MP Philip Ruddock had freshly submitted his expenses to scrutiny, he had written to the Finance Department to examine his history of claims.
The trips to Uluru and Cairns with his family when he was environment minister involved a series of work-related meetings, he said.
The government has criticised Mr Burke for having had to repay expenses on 15 occasions in the past.
But he said all of it had been done voluntarily.
He’s also offered to pay back $94.32 claimed for car travel to a Robbie Williams concert in September 2014.
Mr Abbott said MPs had government, parliamentary and political responsibilities for which expenses were appropriate.
“The public should be prepared to fund what is reasonably necessary for politicians to do their job properly,” he said.
“Should you use a helicopter to get there? Well, plainly that’s outside community expectations.”
The annual Light on the Hill dinner in Bathurst, commemorating former Labor prime minister Ben Chifley’s legacy, is under the spotlight with News Corp reporting MPs have charged taxpayers at least $13,600 over the years to attend the event.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese is the star attraction at this year’s dinner on September 19, with the party charging $85 a ticket.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described the event as a public lecture, advertised on the NSW Tourism website, and said it was part of his public duties to attend.
“Ben Chifley … was a very significant Australian and we’ve had speakers at those events who are not even Labor people,” Mr Shorten told ABC radio.
Labor is supporting Mr Abbott’s move to ask former finance department head David Tune and Remuneration Tribunal chief John Conde to review the travel entitlements system.
The prime minister is expected to appoint a businessman and former Liberal and Labor MPs to help expedite the review.
Queensland Liberal National senator James McGrath has called on Mr Abbott to set up an “online transparency portal” that publicly lists all government spending.
Labor wants the entitlements review expanded to include the rules surrounding the government’s use of the VIP jet and other special purpose aircraft.