Malcolm Turnbull

Ministers bill taxpayers to attend PM's private New Years Eve function


EXCLUSIVE: Four ministers billed the taxpayer almost $7000 to attend a glitzy private New Year's Eve function hosted by Malcolm Turnbull.

Four government ministers billed taxpayers almost $7000 to attend Malcolm Turnbull’s private harbourside New Year’s Eve reception in 2015 - even as the majority of the Coalition frontbench paid their own way.

The guests were served Chermoula spiced quail breasts with pomegranate molasses and Sydney rock oysters with chardonnay vinegar dressing, at the glitzy 185-person celebration that cost taxpayers almost $10,000.

Entitlements claims for the period covering the party, just months after Mr Turnbull assumed his prime ministership, were only revealed last month.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton flew from Brisbane on December 31st, returning on January 1st, and claimed flights, COMCAR costs and a $468 travel allowance to attend.

Attorney General George Brandis was in Sydney between December 30th and January 1st, and claimed flights, COMCAR and travel allowance for two days.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield claimed COMCAR costs and flights for himself and a family member to fly to and from Melbourne for the evening, flying to Sydney on December 31 and back on the 1st.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham claimed only a single taxpayer-funded Cabcharge for the visit, totalling $62.53.

A spokesperson for Senator Birmingham confirmed he attended “an official function” at Kirribilli House "while on a privately funded trip to Sydney” but claimed “all other aspects of the trip were self-funded by the Minister”.

Spokespeople for the other three ministers all confirmed the entitlements claims were based around attendance at the event, and all described it as an "official function".

The Government's Entitlements Handbook states ministers can claims flights, car travel and a travel allowance only for "official business”.

Of the 22 ministers who were invited to the Prime Minister’s New Year’s Eve reception, the majority did not claim any expenses for attending.

The Parliamentary entitlement scheme is expected to be overhauled this year following an independent review in the wake of Bronwyn Bishop’s ‘Choppergate’ scandal.

The review looked into ways to reduce the ambiguity about what constitutes “official business”.

The review's final report, completed in February last year, recommended a new definition of “parliamentary business” be introduced.

It would cover events such as one "to which a parliamentarian is invited, or attends, in his or her capacity as a member of the Parliament (or in his or her capacity as a minister or parliamentary office holder)”.

It is unclear whether events such as the Prime Minister’s New Year’s Eve function are covered under this definition.

The government postponed the reforms despite a bill being drafted and ready for parliament last year.

The Parliamentary Entitlements Legislation Amendment Bill was marked for introduction in 2016 on a Department of Finance briefing document prepared in October obtained by SBS News under Freedom of Information law.

A spokesperson for the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told SBS News in December that the bill was not introduced in 2016 because of “the government’s very busy legislative agenda since the election” and noted the passage of the omnibus savings bill, income tax cuts, the establishment of the Registered Organisations Commission, superannuation reforms and "many other high priority pieces of legislation”.

The government spent the final days of Parliament attempting to amend backpacker tax laws it had previously introduced and securing passage of a weakened bill to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

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