It’s time, Finance and AFP: Randall’s Cairns claim must be investigated

Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston

Co-publisher & editor-in-chief at No Fibs

Margo Kingston is an Australian journalist, author, and commentator. She is best known for her work at The Sydney Morning Herald and her weblog, Webdiary. Since 2012, Kingston has been a citizen journalist, reporting and commenting on Australian politics via Twitter and No Fibs.

Margo Kingston

@margokingston1

Recovered journalist uncovered in 2013. #frightbat Queen in 2014.

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Margo Kingston

Federal MP Don Randall and Tony Abbott. Picture: Ray  Strange Source: The Australian

Federal MP Don Randall and Tony Abbott. Picture: Ray Strange Source: The Australian

By Margo Kingston

20 October, 2013

OK, we’re starting to get to the pointy end of the political travel rorts scandal.

My understanding of the Don Randall matter is this. In November 2012 the Perth MP and a family member flew to Cairns for an overnight stay. . He claimed the $5259 trip was “electorate business”. A week after returning from Cairns, on November 26, he updated his pecuniary interests register, saying:  “My wife and I have taken possession of the house at the Cairns location. We intend to rent the house as an investment.”

When Fairfax revealed this after a tip-off from a citizen journalist, he said: “The claims relating to travel were appropriately acquitted with the Department of Finance.” That statement was false, because political travel expenses are self regulated – the politicians claim, and Finance accepts the claims without question, unless an allegation of irregularity is raised. (see Exclusive: Abbott forced to repay $9,400 he charged taxpayers to promote his book).

Under pressure, he paid back the money  saying: “I will immediately issue a payment to the department to reimburse the entire costs incurred for that visit to ensure the right thing is done by the taxpayer and alleviate any ambiguity. I’ve always acted in good faith when submitting claims and, after an extensive review of all my expenses, I’m satisfied that those claims meet the guidelines.”‘

Yet he refused to say what electoral business he had in Cairns and the Prime Minister refused to take questions on the matter.

So, we have what on its face is a fraud on taxpayers, the payment of money for a private purpose.

What next?

We know that the AFP can investigate complaints of fraud on taxpayers by politicians independently of a Finance Department referral, because it did just that in relation to allegations that Peter Slipper charged taxpayers for private tripos to wineries around Canberra in 2010, when he was a Liberal backbencher. We also know that it investigated claims by James Ashby in 2012 that he misused cab charges in that year, while Speaker (see the AFP documents released under my FOI request) .

Yet last week the AFP claimed the opposite – that several complaints by members of the public, and by Labor backbencher Rob Mitchell about wrongful travel claims by the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, were not in its remit to investigate:

“The Department of Finance is responsible for the administration of entitlements for members of the Australian Parliament. These matters were forwarded to the Department of Finance. The AFP is not currently investigating these allegations.”

This statement is incorrect. As Finance Department official David Tune noted in evidence to a Senate Estimates Committee in May this year (from p. 107) about the Slipper matter:

“It was an AFP investigation from the very start. AFP spoke to us and sought some information, which we provided, and some of our records. Then the AFP made the decision whether to refer it to the DPP, which they did, and we are not going through the (Minchin Protocol) process. It was a reversal of what we would normally do, and therefore we had no role in it whatsoever, other than to provide information to the AFP.

“It is just the circumstance in which it arises. If someone makes an allegation, not to us but directly to the AFP, it is for the AFP to decide what they do with it.”

The then Finance minister Senator Wong added:

“The issue is that any citizens can ask the law enforcement authorities to consider a breach of the law, as is appropriate. Whatever people’s views might be about there being other ways that might be better to deal with a particular issue, these officers operate within the context that any citizen can do that, should they wish.”

Therefore, a complaint to the AFP about the Randall matter should trigger an investigation.

Even if the AFP referred the matter back to Finance, the department could still refer it back to the AFP for investigation, even under the now notorious Minchin Protocol, under which Finance can decide to allow MPs to repay false claims without further consequences. Mr Tune said:

“The less serious allegations are handled via a process of the Special Minister of State writing to the relevant senator or member and seeking an explanation, providing them with information around the entitlement and what kind of entitlement could be available. The senator or member is provided with a chance to consider that and to provide an explanation if there is an explanation. There is a different process in place, as the secretary indicated, in relation to serious matters. When we talk about serious matters, those are the kinds of matters that might suggest there has been fraud or some other criminal offence committed.”

The question now is, in the absence of any explanation by Randall, does Finance have any choice but to refer the matter to the AFP for investigation?

As it stands, the parallel with Slipper is exact. We have an allegation that Randall deliberately charged taxpayers for private business.

It seems clear that Finance and the AFP have an obligation to act. It is up to the Press Gallery to interrogate both.

It is also up to the press gallery to insist that the Prime Minister comment on the Randall matter. On its face, this matter proves that his statement that political travel does not need reform is nonsense.

 


 

UPDATE 24 October 2013

The PMs comments on Randall and MP expenses reform
http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2013-10-23/interview-neil-mitchell-radio-3aw-melbourne

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you going to watch his expenses closer than the Members of Parliament? I can’t understand why you just won’t tighten them? Not Opposition Leaders, not Prime Minister’s – backbenchers.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I appreciate that the public are always concerned and annoyed whenever there are stories of politicians allegedly misusing entitlements. Now, I am not saying that we are never going to change the system. I am always vigilant for ways to improve. The difficulty is that whatever the system is there is always going to be arguments at the margin and the only proposal that has come up so far is the Greens proposal for an Integrity Commissioner. Now, this was one that they actually put to the former government with whom they were in alliance and not even the former government thought it was a great idea.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You could find an answer if there was a will there. It is not on the margins to fly from Perth to Cairns to buy a house on the taxpayer and then pay it back.

PRIME MINISTER:

The gentleman in question tells me that he didn’t do that. That he went from Perth to Cairns to have some very important discussions with the whip.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Haven’t they got a telephone?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, look, there are some discussions that are best done face to face. I can remember in December last year coming down to Melbourne for a fantastic event that you might be familiar with.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes, you came to a Christmas lunch but that was in your role as…

PRIME MINISTER:

But you can’t have that on the phone. I mean there are certain things which just have to happen face to face and look, Members of Parliament are entitled to travel to have important meetings because teleconferencing is sometimes no substitute for a face to face discussion. Now, I am not defending any particular action and look over the years there have been a lot of things which look contrived, I have got to say. All I am saying Neil, is that whatever the system is there is going to be arguments at the margins. I am not ruling out improvements but no one has come to me yet with a proposal which I am confident on balance would take things forward.

 

See also:

A familiar AFP smell over Slipper and Ashby

How will media, Finance and the AFP handle evidence that the Prime Minister is a cheat

 

 

 

Comments


  1. Unfortunatelty this has a smell of the “right to rule mentality”…..the PM is a serial offender…remember when he said after the Howard election loss “how will I be able to pay my mortgage?”….we should watch this man very carefully!


  2. It looks to me like someone in the AFP is about to get themselves dragged into this as well soon. Trying to play favourites and divert attention away from potential “bad press”.


  3. It is frightening that we have a situation where dubious claims should be investigated and the body with the power to do so is not only refusing to act but fobbing it off! This raises the question why? Does the LNP have a “special” relationship with the AFP?


  4. No it is not frightening, (yet), when there is nothing done about this by the AFP or LNP then we should be frightened.

  5. Frances Jones says:

    On Friday 18th October I rang John Weekes at the AFP in Goulburn St Sydney. https://mobile.twitter.com/sacurren/status/390630154398994432
    He said Slipper was charged for the misuse of cab vouchers. He said Peter Slipper may have broken the law. He said other MPs’ expense matters are an internal matter for the Department of Finance to refer to the AFP.
    Actually it seems to be a government Cabcharge card, not vouchers http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/peter-slipper-slams-breathtaking-double-standards-over-mps-expense-entitlements-20131007-2v3gp.html
    He said the first port of call is to be investigated by the Department of Finance, then MPs can pay the money back. If they find a criminal matter they can refer it to the AFP.
    I tried to explain to John Weekes the political complications with Ashby, Brough, Palmer etc but he didn’t seem very familiar with it, which is not surprising considering the media’s lack of coverage. He was not aware of the bigger picture. I think we need smart AFP detectives to investigate the whole story.
    Was Ron Randall “accused of knowingly misusing the cab vouchers” ? It seems to be about specific wording regarding a crime.
    In Cairns, Randall “spent $25.83 on a Cabcharge and took two other taxi fares worth $90.91 and $109.09.”
    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/taxpayers-cop-another-slap-in-the-face/story-fni0fheo-1226741956517
    The inconsistency is that Slipper couldn’t repay Finance because it had been reported to the AFP. Now the AFP defer to Finance. Passing the buck?
    Journalists need to ask the Department of Finance whether they think Randall is “accused of knowingly misusing the cab vouchers” which is Slipper’s alleged crime which will go to trial for 7 days and cost taxpayers $70,000.
    Freedom of Information logs show that people have been going through @PNSlipper and Craig Thomson’s expense claims with a fine tooth comb for years. Someone was looking very hard for something with requests made in 2011 and 2012:
    http://www.finance.gov.au/foi/disclosure-log/index.html
    I said all this to John Weekes and I said that the issue won’t be going away because a lot of people are interested in it.

  6. Casablanca says:

    Kay, questions of a conflict of interest have been raised about Abbott’s decision to bunk down at AFP Headquarters when in Canberra. He will eat, sleep, shower, work out and cycle with them. Not a good look even though one or two of the AFP would be part of his official security detail.


  7. dennis i agree we all should be frightened,because i cant see any charges being laid against any LNP members,they have too many friends in high places,who was it that reported the slipper case to the police,was it just to bring a government down,they have put slipper to hell and back for a lousy $1000,but won’t act on a complaint for those who have stolen much more from us the tax payer.the only way we are going to get answers is for US to make a big noise,maybe just maybe then they will act ,but i won’t hold my breath

  8. Peter Barwick says:

    Were is the press? were is the opposition? were are our guardians of the law? What is honest abbot going to do about this FIRE ?

  9. TimePasser says:

    Abbott has spoken about Randall’s trip to Cairns! Randall (allegedly) had “very important discussions” with Warren Entsch!!! No phones in Cairns I guess? The conversation was “Private” according to Entsch, so…. NOT entitled to use taxpayer money I say.

    The same Warren Entsch, who denied a pair to a Labor MP whose child was sick has granted a ‘rorting pair’ to Randall but hasn’t yet thought up a plausible topic of the “very important discussions”.
    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/very-important-discussions-tony-abbott-defends-don-randalls-cairns-trip-20131023-2w0aw.html#ixzz2iVN5YGqm

  10. Jacinta Arnold says:

    The latest statement by the PM sounds like a bare faced lie. Why should the public pay for party business in any event?


  11. Has Sophy’s snout been in the trough? How far back can these matters be taken -would dearly like to know.


  12. now where is that guillotine?


  13. justread on the ABC site, that this crook from WA also cliamed expenses for travel to MELBOURNE on September 15th last year for him and his wife. Apparently, dept finance docs show the reason as “sitting of parliament” Now apart from the fact that no where in my memory has the house of reps ever sat on a Saturday, The parliament actually sta thee previous week and reconvened on MONDAY 17/09/12. So why MELBOURNE andd NOT Canberra? The West Coast Eagles were apparently playing in a semi final in You Guessed it, Melbourne. That little jaunt cost us over $5000 ++. The man and his wife are non repentant crooks


  14. The Prime Minister appears to be lying on this matter.

  15. Peter Barwick says:

    To me it seems the AFP are adopting a political stance, taking the side of the right and becoming a part of that faction. The world has seen the results of police running their own agenda. The upkeep of our laws which the Australian public are paying them for should I would have thought been a priority. Worried we should be. Watch this space!


  16. In the last’October edition of the Australian Army newspaper there was a column of disciplinary matter. There is a reference to a soldier being found guilty of fiddling his rental claims. He was ordered to repay some $4.,000 plus ( I assume the amount of the fiddle0 and was sentenced to 60 DAYS detention. I assume that this soldier was not a QC nor an MP who, we would assume, has a more sophisticated standard of education.


  17. John Lescroart – “The essence of fascism is to make laws forbidding everything and then enforce them selectively against your enemies.”


  18. It’s time, Finance and AFP: Randall’s Cairns claim must be investigated – No Fibs http://t.co/kSBbta7fT4 via @NoFibs

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