Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Abbott Government Minister for Defence continues Liberal Party tradition of diving snout-first into the ministerial expense budget trough

News.com.au 5 December 2014:

Taxpayers have been hit with a double whammy following a November food and wine tour by besieged Defence Minister David Johnston and his chief-of-staff Sean Costello.
In addition to the $6384 five-star bill chalked up on the government credit card entertaining defence industry chiefs and foreign dignitaries, the public purse will cop a Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) bill of more than $2100 for the extravaganza…..
The latest revelations come after Mr Costello, a former navy officer and executive with submarine builder ASC, had two senior staff frogmarched out of the office without explanation on the day the ‘dinegate’ scandal was exposed. Defence has launched a taxpayer funded leak investigation into the story by the feared Defence Security Agency….. Their fine dining tour took in Matilda Bay Restaurant in the minister’s home city of Perth where the government credit card covered the $2332 bill for 14 people or $167.57 a head. At Sean’s Kitchen in Adelaide the account was $662 for three people or $220.67 a head and at Balthazar Restaurant in Perth it was $722 for three or $240.67 a head.
Docket from Sean's Kitchen in Adelaide paid for by Defence Minister, David Johnston. Source: Supplied
Docket from Balthazar Restaurant in Perth paid for by Defence Minister, 
David Johnston. Source: Supplied

A second visit to Matilda Bay generated a bill of $2062 for seven or $294.57 per head and a dinner at Courgette in Canberra came in at $599 for four or $149.75 each.
“If any of the guests were Federal Government employees their meals will also incur FBT,” Mr Perryman said.
Government guidelines do not specify limits for the “reasonable amounts” that ministers can spend on hospitality.
However Mr Abbott’s statement of ministerial standards says: “Ministers and their staff are provided with resources and facilities at public expense for the effective conduct of public business. Such resources are not to be subject to wasteful or extravagant use, and due economy is to be observed at all times.”
Ministers and staff paid more than $200,291-a-year (Mr Costello is paid about $250,000) can claim travel allowance of $379-a-day in Adelaide and $469-a-day in Perth provided they don’t live there.
The meal component of that is $143.25-a-day in Adelaide and Perth or $32.55 for breakfast, $46.10 for lunch and $64.60 for dinner well below amounts spent on the government credit card.
Military personnel on official business can claim up to $47 for dinner, $28 for lunch and $24 for breakfast provided there is no flight meal involved.
Concerns have also been raised about the amount of alcohol served with the meals.
At the Matilda Bay Restaurant Mr Costello and six guests drank six $15 pints of Japanese ale, two bottles of $85 Chardonnay, two bottles of $190 Henscke Shiraz and a $210 bottle of Cullen Diana Cabernet. There are no official guidelines covering alcohol consumption.
Mr Costello has admitted that he had accepted a flight upgrade from first to business class in contravention of official guidelines.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office moved to distance itself from the chaos yesterday when his powerful chief-of-staff Peta Credlin denied that she had any role in Mr Costello’s appointment.
They worked together in the office of Howard Government Defence Minister Robert Hill.
“All Ministerial advisers, including Sean Costello, are put forward by the Minister responsible and approved by the Prime Minister on recommendation from the Government Staff Committee,” a spokeswoman for the prime minister said.
“Peta Credlin did not approach Sean Costello to join the Minister’s office.”
Ms Credlin sat on the Government Staff Committee or ‘star chamber’ chaired by Minister Kevin Andrews following the election, but the government yesterday refused to reveal its current membership…..

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