Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has promised to reimburse A$5227 in taxpayers’ money that she spent on a helicopter flight between Melbourne and Geelong to attend a Liberal fundraiser in November.
Bishop will also pay a 25% loading under rules introduced by this government for when entitlements have been wrongly claimed.
As the extraordinary spending was seized on by the opposition and embarrassed the government, Bishop moved to try to deal with the damage by writing to Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson, saying she would pay back the money for the return trip – which, if done by car, would have taken something over an hour each way and cost a few hundred dollars.
“Whilst my understanding is that this travel was conducted within the rules, to avoid any doubt, I will reimburse the full costs,” Bishop said.
Treasurer Joe Hockey cut Bishop no slack when questioned on radio. Asked whether the trip passed a “sniff test”, he said “look, instinctively, it doesn’t”, and said she needed to explain.
The helicopter trip is only one aspect of the entitlements controversy in which Bishop is embroiled. She spent more than $300,000 on overseas trips in a year. This included more than $88,000 when she led a parliamentary delegation to Italy, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland. During this trip, when she was accompanied by two staff members, she was seeking election to the presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which she failed to secure.
Before backing down over the Geelong trip, Bishop’s spokesman had said on Wednesday: “The Speaker had a number of meetings during her visit to Victoria and always seeks to fit in as many meetings and events into her schedule as is possible.”
He said that “because of her concern for the country, she works as hard as she can and wishes she could do even more”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said this was “the sort of arrogance, using taxpayer funds to attend a party-political event” that made Australians so angry.
“We have vulnerable families, low-income families, being slugged thousands of dollars by the Abbott government, and yet we have Mrs Bishop who thinks she is so important that she can’t even be bothered getting a car between Melbourne and Geelong, a one-hour car trip.”
After a series of controversies over dubious or inappropriate entitlement claims, including by Tony Abbott in opposition, the government announced that parliamentarians would have to pay a 25% loading on any expenses incorrectly claimed.