Bridget McKenzie tops the list for politicians' travel claims
Senator McKenzie’s domestic travel reportedly included $20,000 to travel via a private jet from central Queensland to an ice hockey game in Melbourne – a month after splashing $14,000 on a chartered flight to meet Prince Charles in Cairns at a basketball game.
The senator, who was promoted to Minister for Agriculture last month, lives in Ballarat, about 115 kilometres from Melbourne. For 17 nights last year, travel allowance was used to stay in the city, at a cost of $449 per night. Senator McKenzie either had “official duties” or an early flight the next day when staying in Melbourne, her spokesman said.
In the month of October, Senator McKenzie spent 28 days in hotels at a cost of $10,000 in travel allowance, staying in Sydney (on four separate trips), Melbourne (three trips), Launceston, Wodonga, Adelaide, Manjimup, Perth and Canberra (four trips, two for sittings of Parliament).
On Sunday, September 30 the senator farewelled the Australian Youth Olympic team before attending the NRL grand final and staying at a hotel. She then stayed in Sydney for another night to speak at a function farewelling the same junior team.
Senator Bridget McKenzie with the Australian youth Olympic team in Sydney on September 30, 2018. Credit:Twitter
Senator McKenzie’s spokesman said the responsibilities of being Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation required her to spend most of her time in regional Australia, “holding regular face-to-face meetings” and attending major sporting events and “announcements”.
The “significant travel program” is due to her “work across portfolio areas” and a “desire to directly engage with stakeholders and communities”, the spokesman said.
“All travel undertaken is consistent with the relevant rules on work expenses,” he added.
The Minister’s charter flights were due to urgent meetings and a lack of commercial flight options, the spokesman said.
Senator McKenzie’s claims are tracking higher than her predecessors. The previous Minister for Local Government and Territories Fiona Nash claimed $15,609 in travel allowance in 2017 and the previous Minister for Sport and Health Greg Hunt, also based in Victoria, claimed $42,000 the same year.
Eighty per cent of Senator McKenzie’s 2018 travel allowance expenses were used for nights in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.
The 32 nights spent in more regional areas included two nights in Bendigo, 115 kilometres from her home in Ballarat.
Many trips featured photo opportunities with Coalition MPs bestowing local sporting grants. Some grants were worth less than a day’s travel bill for the senator and her staff.
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Longman LNP candidate Trevor Ruthenberg toured the electorate making funding announcements with Senator McKenzieCredit:Twitter
Senator McKenzie’s travel claims have been controversial in the past, including when she was accused of using travel entitlements for personal benefit, on a weekend trip to the Gold Coast in September 2014.
She was also questioned over her use of entitlements to go to an awards ceremony in Sydney in 2017. Whilst those claims were controversial, they were ultimately deemed to have been incurred in accordance with the rules and no disciplinary action was taken.
More recently she campaigned for Barnaby Joyce during the New England byelection while claiming “electorate business”. And in July last year, Senator McKenzie visited the seat of Longman to campaign with the LNP candidate in the byelection there, announcing local sports and other funding with him.
The average travel allowance usage in 2018 was about one in four nights or a total of 96 across the year. For senators, there were 76 sitting days in Canberra including budget estimates. The Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack was the second most well-travelled politician last year spending 211 nights away from home claiming a travel allowance.
Mr Snowdon was ranked third (199 nights) and Queensland Senator James McGrath was fourth (194 nights). Labor Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann had the least travel allowance claims with just 17 nights.
Politicians are “personally responsible” for deciding if their use of public resources “achieves value for money”, is “publicly justifiable” and is “ethical”, according to the IPEA guidelines updated in January 2018.
The IPEA also says MPs should be “prepared to publicly justify your use of public resources” and “bear community expectations in mind because your use will be measured against these”.
Nigel Gladstone is The Sydney Morning Herald’s data journalist.