World of wineries and weddings

ADMISSIONS by Tony Abbott that he had claimed the cost of attendance at two weddings against his parliamentary entitlements confirm what many have suspected for a long time.

Election to Parliament is clearly seen by some as an invitation to a free drink.

If by some skerrick of imagination or irrational justification anything can be charged, it is increasingly apparent that it is.

Mr Abbott has paid back the cost of his travel to Peter Slipper's wedding and that of Sophie Mirabella in 2006.

Of course Peter Slipper, who faces court later this year on charges of causing the Commonwealth a loss, is now talking about "breathtaking double standards".

He makes comparisons between the cost of his little winery junkets and the amount Mr Abbott claimed to promote his book.

What we don't hear from the former Member for Fisher is any explanation as to why he felt you and I should pay for his days out on the drink.

Nor do we hear him talk about the letters he received from the Department of Finance advising him not to use Cabcharge dockets and to instead to make all travel claims electronically.

Those letters form part of the evidence now lodged with the court.

The allegation laid against Mr Slipper is that he misrepresented what had been a single fare to tour wineries on three separate occasions by falsely filling in a series of Cabcharge dockets masquerading as smaller fares around Canberra.

Court documents are very clear on this point.

"His intention in doing so was to hide from the Department of Finance and Administration the fact that he had used the Cabcharge card when he knew he was not entitled to do so,'' they state.

In 2011, the Daily created an online petition, eventually signed by nearly 3000 residents, calling for Parliament to fully audit Mr Slipper's expense claims.

The petition asked for the process be overseen by the National Audit Office to assist with recommendations that may produce expenditure guidelines in line with community expectations.

It also asked that expenditure provisions be tightened to require all Members to give detail of the parliamentary or electoral business that led to an expense being incurred.

Revelations of the past two weeks underscore the point that the National Audit Office has made in a number of reports.

Put simply, the Auditor General wants the rules tightened and scrutiny increased.

The guidelines have been broad to allow for unseen contingencies. As this column has previously argued, they are not meant to define the outer limits of excess.


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