The newly appointed Attorney-General George Brandis was caught ripping off the tax payer to attend the wedding of former radio host and current blogger Michael Smith. It is worth looking at what happened in the background, the attack on Prime Minister Tony Abbott by Michael Smith and why this story will not die until Mr Brandis is either sacked or resigns.
Last Sunday (29/9/13) the SMH reported that government ministers, Liberal Senator George Brandis and National Senator Barnaby Joyce, claimed expenses from the tax payer to attend the wedding of Michael Smith in 2011. Senator Brandis denied any wrong doing but paid back $1683.06 on the same day of the news report and after it starting going viral on social media. Senator Joyce also denied any wrong doing but paid back $650 the following day (30/9/13).
Michael Smith went on the front foot immediately and started defending his mates using his blog Michael Smith News. This is the same Michael Smith who used his blog on the 8th July 2013 (2 months before the federal election) to attack Tony Abbott over false expense claims.
Michael Smith’s missile attack on Tony Abbott
On the 8th July Michael Smith wrote a post titled “The protocols for politicians (but not bank tellers) to pay back wrongfully claimed money.” which was aimed at Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott’s travel claims from 2010 where he repaid $9000 was starting to get a run in the media again.
Mr Smith said in the post: “It involves Tony Abbott’s travel claims, the protocol under which Federal Parliamentarians can pay back money to avoid further action after wrongful claims, and Tony Abbott’s publicity tour to promote his book Battlelines.”
and “You’ll have your own view about this – mine is that on the face of it, this is appalling. It will blunt Tony Abbott’s attack on Labor for its clearly corrupt behaviours and it will add to the public perception that the gravy train is alive and well for those in the know.”
and “Peter Slipper has been subject to some scrutiny about travel claims too. Some of his claims were not dealt with under the protocol, they went to the Australian Federal Police.” (Click here to read the post)
Mr Smith is implying Tony Abbott is corrupt and suggesting that maybe it should be referred to the federal police given his comment about Peter Slipper. I do not have a problem with what Michael Smith wrote about Tony Abbott but I found this rather odd coming from Smith given he is a coalition supporter and it was only a matter of months before the federal election. Maybe he is a Malcolm Turnbull supporter. It also shows hypocrisy by Michael Smith when it comes to George Brandis and Barnaby Joyce which is main relevance to this post.
Tony Abbott claimed $9000 for travel to promote his book Battlelines and paid it back. He said “My office inadvertently booked some travel as official, which should not have been booked that way. It’s been fully dealt with.” On the 9th of July 2013 Andrew Bolt wrote a post in response to another journalist:
“Note the selective targetting, given Climate Change Minister Tony Burke made 15 separate repayments involving family travel, totalling nearly $7000, and Julia Gillard made 10 repayments totalling $438 for taxi fares she said were “inadvertently” claimed by a family member. Labor Senator Trish Crossin repaid $3022 while her Queensland colleague, Kirstin Livermore, made 10 repayments totalling $3642.” (Click here to read more) This helps put it in perspective.
George Brandis and the fraud and theft
George Brandis was always going to get plenty of airtime on this site given he is now the Attorney-General and has oversight for the federal courts. How can we have a chief lawmaker who is a fraudster and thief.
“Senator Brandis has confirmed he claimed nearly $1,700 on flights, accommodation and a hire car, but says he attended the wedding primarily for work purposes.”
“He told Fairfax that he used the wedding as an opportunity to collaborate with Smith over his work covering the Health Services Union scandal involving former MP Craig Thomson.” (Click here to read more)
Senator Barnaby Joyce also ripped off the tax payer $650 for the use of a commonwealth car (Comcar) but did not claim for flights and accommodation.
Michael Smith’s pathetic defence of George Brandis
There is no excuse or justification for George Brandis claiming government expenses to attend a wedding. Any defence of it is pathetic. Michael Smith immediately went on the defence once the story broke last Sunday.
He started off writing a post titled “According to Fairfax a politicians expenses in meeting with journalists are not work-related expenses” attacking the Fairfax report.
Smith wrote “The crux of Fairfax’s story is that a member of the Federal Parliament should not be reimbursed expenses for meeting with, travelling to see, or any other travelling expenses associated with attending on journalists.”
“I would like to know how many parliamentary expense claims have been approved for out of state attendees on Q and A, Lateline, or any of a range of other TV or radio shows or interviews with journalists/magazines/receivers of leaks.”
“If I was going on a fishing trip with my mates like Barnaby and that got charged to the taxpayer, I’d be aghast and shocked. That would be wrong. But those blokes were at my wedding in a representative role and they did not demur in any way from their paid elected role as prominent Federal Parliamentarians whose every action was being scrutinised and reported by the some of the large number of journalists who were present. Some of the guests were tweeting about what George and Barnaby were doing. I don’t fill out their expense claims but I don’t think the circumstances of either man’s claim is unreasonable.” (Click here to read the post)
Smith went on to write a number of other posts supporting Brandis and Joyce. The same day that Brandis refunded the stolen money (29/9/13) Michael Smith posted a copy of Brandis’s letter to the Department of Finance which one assumes he received directly from Brandis. (Click here to read)
Again on the same day (29/9/13) Smith wrote: “My wedding was on the 4th of December, 2011. Here is a link to Barnaby Joyce’s expense statements for the period. Here’s his Travel Allowance – no claim for that weekend – he paid his own bills.” (Click here to read) The next day (30/9/13) Barnaby Joyce repaid $650 for the Comcar he claimed.
Smith wrote numerous other posts as well and told Crikey:
“Smith — who has hounded union officials, including Craig Thomson, for allegedly misappropriating members’ funds — says Brandis’ expenses claim was an innocent mistake and there is a grey area when it comes to what politicians can and cannot claim as work-related travel.”
“Does it display incompetence? Does it display dishonesty? Does it display a slap-dash approach? I don’t see any of that on the evidence,” Smith told Crikey.” (Click here to read more)
So Smith says it is ”grey area” when it comes to claiming the attendance of a wedding as a government expense.
Why didn’t Smith call George Brandis and Barnaby Joyce corrupt like he did Tony Abbott?
Michael Smith seems to have stuck his nose in internal Liberal Party politics given his attack on Tony Abbott a few months before the federal election. Whether or not this is the case it would not have gone unnoticed by the Liberal Party and Tony Abbott.
From memory, at around the same time Brandis and Joyce did audio interviews on Michael Smith’s site. So people in the Liberal Party would have been scratching their heads trying to work out what was going on. They would have been asking themselves, why did Smith attack Abbott so hard and why are Brandis and Joyce continuing to support his site.
Brandis’s previous form is not good as far as loyalty to the leader is concerned. “Under the Howard government, Brandis was a Costello-for-PM man, one of the group determined to make Peter prime minister. They never came close to their goal.” (Click her to read more) As it is, some in the Liberal Party do not like or trust Brandis given he was also accused of calling former Prime Minister John Howard a “lying rodent” is 2004 and they would be wondering about his loyalty to Tony Abbott.
Where the Brandis / Joyce media story came from no one knows, but it makes me wonder if the Brandis expense theft was leaked to the media from someone in the Liberal Party given Mr Brandis would have his enemies in the party.
George Brandis’s career as Attorney-General is over
As Attorney-General George Brandis will be expected to comment on the Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper fraud cases and every time he does people will be thinking he is just as bad. He will become a ball and chain on the government that they do not need.
Either Brandis resigns or Tony Abbott has no choice but to sack him. There is no embarrassment for Abbott in sacking Brandis. John Howard sacked plenty.
Update: (7/10/13) Tony Abbott claimed $600 to attend Peter Slipper’s wedding
Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed more than $600 of taxpayer money to attend Peter Slipper’s wedding in 2006 – a claim he has reimbursed in the wake of the past week’s scandals.
An emotional Mr Slipper responded to the news, saying that while other MPs had been allowed to repay errant expense claims, the charges brought against him had ”destroyed his life”.
Speaking to reporters in Bali on Monday, Mr Abbott mentioned discovering that he had billed taxpayers for a “couple” of weddings.
Fairfax Media understands the two weddings were those of his former colleagues Sophie Mirabella and Mr Slipper (Click here to read more)
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