The Press Gallery is on the move trying to find new things to say about George Brandis's travel claim.
I've had a dozen or so journalists get in touch to interview me today - it really amazed me that not one had the actual parliamentary guidelines for travel expenses, nor the actual expense statements for Senators Brandis or Joyce.
I can see clearly that getting work to pay for your trip to a wedding will never pass the pub test. But if a journal of record like the SMH makes that claim that that's where the money went (ie all to pay for the wedding trip), it would want to be on rock solid ground.
Here's some background that might put the Sun-Herald story Sunday into a bit of historical context - and maybe show up some areas of expense guidelines that should be fixed.
Every six months the Federal Department of Finance releases a comprehensive report called
Parliamentarians' Expenditure on Entitlements Paid by the Department of Finance and Deregulation -
Here's a link to the report for the second half of 2011. It's been available on the department's website since early 2012.
Here's the detailed report for Senator the Honourable George Brandis QC for that period.
Here's then Senator Barnaby Joyce's. This report seems to be the basis for the SMH claims about the Joyce/Brandis expenses.
I'd caution about relying on the airline ticket data in particular in those reports. Without further details as to what was written on individual invoices/travel proposals and the like, it would be an educated guess to marry up an airline flight with a confirmed date of travel. The ticketed/charged dates often don't marry up with the flight date and tickets are sometimes issued, not used on the first recorded date then used at a future date.
Have a look at the format in the reports above - very sparse on details. Compare that with the detailed information on a full-on FOI release of complete documentation on travel details like this.
The Travel Allowance bit (ie the money they get for accommodation etc if they stay overnight) looks more reliable dates wise. But in the case of Senator Brandis the entries in his folio raise some questions.
Senator Brandis's entry for the 4th of December starts with the words, "Office Holder".
Ministers of the Crown, the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and shadow ministers (Office Holders) have slightly different travel entitlements from backbenchers.
The salary and entitlements for Opposition Office Holders are set out here.
The travel bit that relates to opposition office holders like Senator Brandis, the then Shadow Attorney General is here:
So the taxpayer will pay for parliamentary business, electorate business or "official" business.
Of the 3 categories of travel, only "Official Business" is defined in the Remuneration Tribunal Determinal 2012/04.
Here's a link to Determination 2012/04. Parliamentary business and Electorate business appear to have broad and generally accepted common usage definitions.
Here's the definition of Official Business:
3.2 For the purpose of clause 3.1 official business means attendance at:
(a) properly constituted meetings of a Government advisory committee or task force provided that the senator or member is a member of the committee or task force;
(b) functions representing a Minister or a Presiding Officer on official business as a Minister or Presiding Officer, provided that the Minister or Presiding Officer nominates the function in advance in a written request to the senator or member to represent him or her.
When I read the Herald's report it struck me as silly that the purposes for which a shadow minister of the crown could travel and charge the expense to the Commonwealth would be so limited.
Here's what the Sun-Herald said in its report about George and Barnaby:
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.
Two of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's most high-profile ministers claimed thousands of dollars in taxpayer entitlements for attending the wedding of close friend and Sydney shock jock Michael Smith.