MEMBER for New England Barnaby Joyce said he’d repay any money if there was ambiguity over expenses relating to the wedding of Sydney shock jock Michael Smith while he was a Queensland senator in 2011.
Fairfax Media reported yesterday that two of Mr Smith’s close friends, George Brandis and Barnaby Joyce, claimed thousands of dollars in travel and accommodation expenses, with taxpayers footing the bill.
Mr Joyce told The Leader taxpayers didn’t pay for his accommodation or airfares on the day of the wedding.
“The motel I paid for myself and there were no air flights on that day,” he said.
“I was doing other work in Sydney and did The Bolt Report on that day. If there’s ambiguity there I’m happy to pay the money back.”
Mr Joyce said the claim that he spent thousands of dollars of taxpayer dollars was incorrect.
“The thousands of dollars is more than wrong, it’s just not right,” he said.
“It impunes what happened.”
Fairfax Media reported that travel expenses lodged with the Department of Finance, showed the duo collectively billed taxpayers nearly $3000 for flights, hire cars and incidental expenses incurred on the trip.
They reported Senator Brandis claimed $1700, including more than $1000 on return flights, $143 on a hire car and the overnight “official business” allowance designed to cover accommodation and incidentals.
He told Fairfax Media on Saturday that he regarded the wedding as a chance to “foster collaboration” over Mr Smith’s work covering the then prime minister and the Craig Thomson scandal and it was therefore “primarily a professional rather than a social engagement”.
“These were both matters of significant national interest on which I spoke frequently in Parliament and the media,” he wrote in a statement.
Fairfax reported that Senator Brandis later claimed $349 in “official business” entitlements for overnight trips and designed to cover accommodation, meals and incidentals. Mr Joyce did not claim that entitlement.
The federal Department of Finance’s guidelines state MPs are allowed to claim travel and accommodation expenses for official business including “meetings of a government advisory committee or taskforce” or “functions representing a minister or presiding officer”. Meeting with journalists is not a purpose sanctioned by the guidelines.
Mr Joyce told The Leader he paid for the motel himself.
Fairfax Media reported that the New England MP claimed a flight to Moree the next day and about $500 worth of charges for the use of a Commonwealth car on the day of the wedding and he said he could not recall whether he had other meetings that day but defended the use of public resources to attend the wedding.
“There were, no doubt, lots of people there involved in politics,” he said.
“It was one of these things where you’re noted more by your absence than by your participation.”
Mr Joyce told The Leader he was returning home the next day.
*** Barnaby should come clean – see today's Editorial.