Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Attorney-General George Brandis and his bravura performance as Pot-Kettle-Black

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis in opposition and government on the subject of members of parliament and honest/ethical conduct.

In Hansard 17 August 2011:

Finally, it was only yesterday, when this matter was brought to light, that the member for Dobell sought to amend his register of a member's interests by lodging with the Register of Members' Interests for the House of Representatives a letter that identified the payment of a sum of money in May 2011 by the Australian Labor Party's New South Wales branch, in settlement of a legal matter to which I was a party. Why was that amendment made only after its disclosure was revealed?

On ABC The Drum 29 August 2011:

Senator Brandis has pursed the ALP backbencher Thomson with a vigour that is disturbing on a number of levels.
Firstly, there are the telephone calls to ministers and police commissioners. Senator Brandis called New South Wales Attorney-General Greg Smith, a fellow Liberal, in early August. Smith says that Brandis was alerting him to a forthcoming media story which would reveal Brandis had asked the New South Wales DPP to look at the Thomson matter.
Then a couple of weeks later Brandis was on the phone again, this time to speak with New South Wales Police Minister Michael Gallacher to again alert him to the fact that Brandis would be sending a brief to the Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione. Gallacher himself alerted Scipione to look out for the Brandis brief.
Then there was Brandis's call to Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus last week. Brandis apparently wanted to clarify whether the AFP would be investigating the matter.
On Channel 7 Sunrise:
"Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis has provided information to police in relation to a number of matters concerning a federal Labor MP," police said in a statement on Tuesday.
"This correspondence has now been referred for internal assessment to determine whether a criminal offence has occurred."

In Hansard 5 February 2013:

Meanwhile, in the coming week there are the fraud charges against the other man upon whose vote the Gillard government depends, Mr Peter Slipper.

In The Sydney Morning Herald 23 September 2013:

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

In the Herald Sun 30 September 2013:

Yesterday, Senator Brandis said he would repay the money to avoid any uncertainty about the circumstances of Mr Smith’s wedding in December 2011.
But he said he still considered he was within parliamentary entitlements to make them.
“I considered that those costs were within parliamentary entitlements, since they were incurred in the course of attendance at a function primarily for work-related purposes. I remain of that view,” he said in a letter written today to the Finance Department.

George Brandis’ July-December 2011 Parliamentarian’s Expenditure Record covering the period in which he travelled to and from the private Smith wedding at taxpayers’ expense:
Domestic Travel 4 Dec 11 Brisbane Sydney 5 Dec 11 Sydney Brisbane $1,191.06
Com Car Brisbane 4 Dec 11 $82.83 Brisbane 5 Dec 11 $44.23
Hire Car Sydney 4 Dec to 5 Dec 11 $143.40
TOTAL $1,461.52 8 April 2013:

Mr Slipper, who stood down from the role of Speaker of the House of Representatives amid controversy last year, faces charges relating to three occasions in which he allegedly dishonestly used Cabcharge dockets to visit Canberra wineries in hire cars in 2010, amounting to $1194 in charges to the taxpayer.

It would appear that the more a member of parliament or senator owes the Department of Finance, the less likely he or she will be held accountable at law.

While the Attorney-General’s attitude seems to be that it is fraud when someone considered a political enemy makes a dubious claim for expenses over and above his/her parliamentary salary or fails to accurately record financial details, but it is perfectly alright when he or a member of his party does so. Additionally, Brandis appears to believe he is entitled to use his expense claims to hide the cost of actively pursuing such a perceived enemy.

The rules relating to parliamentarians' travel allowances/entitlements can be found here.

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