Update 15 July, 2013
FINANCE STATEMENT ON SLIPPER SUMMONS: Pyne wrong on Lateline
No, the Department of Finance and Deregulation did not refer this matter to the Australian Federal Police.
The matter was separately referred to the Australian Federal Police by a third party.
Tameena | Communications and Public Affairs
On Friday’s Lateline, Mr Pyne stated that the Department of Finance had referred Mr Slipper to the police for the alleged 2010 travel rort which resulted in his prosecution for $900
EMMA ALBERICI: Still on Mr Slipper, there appears to have been a disparity in treatment between Peter Slipper and Tony Abbott with regards to misclaimed expenses. Is it clear to you why Mr Abbott was able to simply pay back his $9,400 that he mistakenly claimed and yet Mr Slipper is being pursued through the courts for $900, which is less than 10 times that?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I think the point is there that the department makes those decisions about which mistakes should be pursued and which ones shouldn’t. I mean, sometimes there is an inadvertent error and over the years people have been asked to pay that back. It’s happened on hundreds of occasions where someone’s overpaid $180 or $9,000 and the department follows them up. In the case of Mr Slipper, the department has made a decision, which is a matter for them not for me, that there might be some intent involved rather than a mistaken error of judgment and that’s probably why they’re pursuing him in the courts, but that’s a matter that they’ll explain in the courts.
From where did Mr Pyne get his information? It flatly contradicts written statements to Mr Slipper by Finance and published in this piece.
On 16 November 2012, Mr Slipper wrote:
‘I understand the department may have some queries about my travel in Canberra suburbs on 20 January, 19 April 2010 and 27 June 2010 (the issue he was later charged with in January). I seek advice on any outstanding concerns by the department in relation to travel on the dates noted above or any other use of entitlement.’
The Finance Department’s Mr David Tune replied on 17 December 2012:
‘Prior to the AFP investigation, Finance had no concerns with your travel paid under entitlement on those days… To the extent that Finance has received any further information about travel on those days, it would only be from assistance provided in response to AFP queries during the course of the AFP’s investigation…’
So, as detailed this piece, the Finance Department’s Minchin Protocol, under which it asked Mr Abbott to repay $9,400 charged to the taxpayer for his book tour without further consequences, did not apply in the Slipper case because the 2010 travel claims were referred directly to police by someone outside Finance.
4 July 2013
Who asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate Peter Slipper’s 2010 travel claims?
It’s an intriguing little question, because Slipper has been singled out for prosecution and the public has not been told why. Here’s the background.
James Ashby included cab-charge rorts in his now notorious writ against his employer lodged on 20 April last year and simultaneously released to News Ltd to ensure maximum adverse publicity. The next day he referred those allegations to the AFP, which accepted the referral on 30 April.
The allegations were baseless, a part of Ashby’s shock and awe plan to force the resignation of Slipper, and he dropped them in his subsequent statement of claim. In fact there is no evidence that Slipper rorted any entitlement during his time as Speaker.
However the AFP then delved back into his past as a Liberal Party MP, and finally charged him in January this year with an alleged 2010 travel rort, an incident which occurred shortly before Tony Abbott guaranteed that his travel entitlements were in order. (I note in passing that Mr Abbott has never been asked about the matter, and that Murdoch papers have falsely reported that the summons related to the 2012 matter alleged by Ashby).
I reported on 10 January that Slipper had been charged in contravention of the Government’s Minchin Protocol, which provided that if irregularities in travel claims are uncovered, the MP is given the opportunity to repay with no further action taken. In EXCLUSIVE: How Finance defied protocol to crucify Slipper, I wrote:
OH, THE IRONY of ironies.
James Ashby’s false claims that Peter Slipper had rorted his taxi cab entitlements while Federal Parliamentary Speaker in 2011-12 have triggered a summons on three cab overpayments in 2010.
The history of Ashby’s allegations is as follows: two claims of travel rorts were dropped – after garnering maximum negative publicity for Slipper – while his last claim of sexual harassment was thrown out of the Federal Court in December as an abuse of process.
The AFP (Australian Federal Police) quickly dismissed Ashby’s (withdrawn) cab rort allegations, finding them baseless.
However, they began investigating Slipper’s cab claims, going back a while, and finally came up with the three from 2010, which they summonsed him on this week
Now, there is the Finance Department Protocol followed when an Allegation is Received of Alleged Misuse of Entitlement by a Member or Senator (the so-called Minchin Protocol, because the then Howard Government finance minister Nick Minchin decreed it) which says that when a politician claims too much for minor expenses (such as cab fares) then they just quietly repay the excess and all is forgiven.
From the Protocol:
• When an allegation of or other event which suggests misuse of entitlement occurs, the Department undertakes an internal investigation to ascertain whether the allegations are credible (rather than being only malicious or vexatious).
• If the matter is relatively minor, the Member or Senator will be invited to provide an explanation to the Department.
Sources have revealed exclusively to Independent Australia that, in accordance with this Protocol, when the 2010 overpayment (a mere $900 or so) was discovered several months ago, Peter Slipper immediately offered to repay the excess.
But sources say Finance refused to allow him to do this. Instead, they said that — because the AFP was interested, they would not follow the protocol.
Why did they make such an exception in Slipper’s case?
Many politicians and their staffers claim too much for their cab fares. There is an example below involving Coalition MP Sophie Mirabella.
All those pollies repay — and they don’t get referred to the police.
So, Finance has made an exception for Slipper, despite the fact that the AFP investigation began because of a false and malicious allegation by Ashby.
For simple fairness, Finance should now dump the protocol and refer all politicians who over claim for cabs – and who cannot show this was a simple error and not a try on – to police.
If Finance does not do this, they will have opened a powerful loophole in the Protocol, which invites another Ashby to destroy another political rival with false claims contained in a malicious court application.
In a follow-up story, Finance told AAP that the Minchin Protocol did not apply in this case because it was referred directly to the AFP, that is, was not raised by Finance:
When asked on Thursday by AAP to confirm whether Mr Slipper had offered to repay the money, the AFP declined to comment and referred the matter to the finance department.
A finance department spokesman said: “The department does not publicly comment on interactions between it and individual senators and members in relation to their entitlements.”
However, the Minchin protocol did not apply where an allegation was referred directly to the AFP, the spokesman said.
So who referred it? Surely not Ashby, as he wasn’t working for Slipper in 2010. So who?
Documents obtained by me this week and reproduced below show that Peter Slipper did offer to repay any overpayments to Finance last year, and that Finance advised it had no knowledge of any overpayments with regard to the 2010 matter. In a letter dated 9 November 2012, it said that apart from a matter not relevant to the 2010 claim, ‘Finance is not currently aware of any mistakes or oversights in relation to your use of entitlements’.
Again I ask, who referred this matter direct to the AFP? I note that in response to my FOI application to Finance on the matter, it refused to release 7 documents which might give the public the answer, stating that they were relevant to ‘a current prosecution’.
Here’s another question. Why did the AFP and the Director of Public Prosecutions commit to shelling out serious money to prosecute Slipper for $900 when the costs bill will be enormous, with seven AFP officer and more than 30 witnesses to be called?
Don’t expect a straight answer from the DPP – he gobbledegooked his way through questioning in a recent Senate Estimates Committee hearing.
And here is the biggest, most troubling, question of all. Why did the AFP spend so much time and energy investigating Slipper’s entitlements and prosecuting over a small sum which could have been quickly repaid, but is resolutely sitting on its hands over a referral to it of alleged criminal activities surrounding the Ashby scandal?
In the wake of the explosive Rares judgement, Labor MP Graham Perrett sent a detailed brief to the AFP on 21 December requesting investigation into possible criminal offences by Ashby, Karen Doane, Mal Brough, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne and Queensland LNP Minister Mark McCardle.
The AFP replied that it would not even decide whether or not to investigate until Ashby’s appeal was handed down, ignoring the fact that the appeal is about technicalities of law about whether Justice Rares should have thrown out the case as abuse of process, not about whether criminal acts, including stealing Slipper’s diary, had been committed. Convenient, yes? Avoids action till after the election, yes?
In March Perrett tried again with another brief adding Eric Abetz to his list, and again, the AFP decided to sit on its hands. The Full Federal Court has yet to hand down its judgement on whether Ashby will be given leave to appeal. The trail goes cold.
I haven’t smelled something this rotten since the AFP omitted from its brief to the DPP crucial evidence against Peter Reith’s son over the 2000 Telecard scandal, and the then DPP refused to prosecute father or son in the face of strong evidence of breaches of the law (see the No Fibs Telecard archive and the Telecard Timeline).
The AFP is compromised when it comes to investigating politicians. Always has been, always will be. Federal politics needs an independent body to investigate alleged political corruption, as in ICAC in NSW and the CMC in Queensland. I argued this case in my 2004 book Not Happy, John: Defending our democracy. Reckon Rudd or Abbott will get the job done? Nope.