An audit of parliamentary records has found several instances where country MPs have received an accommodation allowance for staying in Adelaide on the same nights they were travelling within SA or interstate at taxpayer expense.
- Documents show more apparent double-dipping of taxpayer allowances by SA MPs
- Several inconsistencies relate to Tim Whetstone, who resigned from Cabinet last month
- SA’s anti-corruption commissioner has been investigating several MPs
One MP has admitted to honest mistakes, others have opted not to address the inconsistencies, while some politicians have defended their claims, insisting the inconsistencies are mistakes on the part of the Parliament, and that they have not double-dipped.
Several of the inconsistencies relate to former agriculture minister Tim Whetstone, who resigned from Cabinet after admitting to making more than 90 erroneous claims and agreeing to repay nearly $7,000.
The new inconsistencies are not among the mistakes he has already rectified.
More problematic claims by former minister
In 2010, Mr Whetstone claimed taxpayer money under a now-expired travel allowance, for separate trips to Arkaroola, Port Lincoln and Broken Hill.
But the dates of those trips in Parliament’s records match dates where Mr Whetstone submitted separate claims for a Country Members Accommodation Allowance worth more than $200 a night.
Those claims require MPs to certify they were staying in Adelaide on official business and incurred expenditure on the date in question.
Mr Whetstone did not answer any questions regarding these claims.
“As you know, the ICAC is investigating these matters and, through my lawyer, I confirmed … that I am cooperating with that investigation,” Mr Whetstone said in an email.
“It would be inappropriate for me to make any comment about matters while they remain the subject of an on-going ICAC investigation.”
Former Labor MP and speaker Lyn Breuer took both payments for being in Adelaide and Canberra on the same night in 2010.
She charged taxpayers $207 for being in Adelaide, on the same night she claimed $408 for the Canberra trip.
Ms Breuer claimed $496 for a two-day trip to Broken Hill in 2011on the same dates she charged the taxpayer $428 for staying in Adelaide.
The former speaker also double claimed while on a trip to Mount Gambier the same year.
She said each of these claims for staying in Adelaide were made in error.
When asked whose responsibility it was to ensure dates and relevant payments were correct, Ms Breuer said: “I understand no-one did at that time”.
Ms Breuer denied she had double claimed on a trip to Alice Springs and Darwin in 2011, despite parliamentary records showing a crossover of dates.
She said a check of her records confirmed her claim for staying in Adelaide at the time was correct.
“When I did, I always checked my flights, dates etc very carefully, and cannot understand how I made these errors.”
The current Deputy Speaker, Liberal MP Peter Treloar, did not respond to questions about anomalies in his claims, which showed him charging taxpayers for accommodation in Adelaide while on trips to Whyalla and McLaren Vale, where he attended a Liberal Party strategy retreat.
Former Liberal MP wants Parliament chief executive
The records show former Liberal MP Michael Pengilly claimed accommodation costs for staying in Adelaide while on taxpayer-funded trips to the Northern Territory in 2012 and Perth in 2014.
Mr Pengilly said he no longer had access to his parliamentary records to check the dates in question.
“Generally speaking, the life of an MP is continuous meetings and activities,” he said.
“They have no workers compensation available to them, no mandated leave nor loadings and secure employment for only four years. Those matters are important for people to understand.”
He was critical of the parliamentary system that managed expenses, arguing it needed to be overhauled.
“The Parliament’s two houses operate as individual empires and never the twain shall meet,” he said.
“An overarching chief executive could bring more assistance to members and staff alike in my humble opinion. Modern practices may well be put in place to change the outdated current system.”
MPs defend their claims
The ABC identified further discrepancies in claims made by Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan, and crossbencher Geoff Brock, but both MPs insist their claims were above board.
Travel records show Mr Pelekaan charged taxpayers $277 for travel to Penola in the state’s south-east between July 6 and 8 in 2015.
The then-opposition MP also claimed $220 for staying overnight in Adelaide on July 7.
In a statement, Mr van Holst Pellekaan said his records show he worked in Penola on the 6th and stayed the night, before returning to Adelaide.
“The country MP accommodation allowance form I signed is accurate. I assume there is an admin error in the intra-state travel form,” Mr van Holst Pellekaan said.
“It is an MP’s responsibility to make these expense claims as accurately as possible and Parliament House staff assess them and approve/adjust/reject them.”
Mr Brock appeared to claim $816 for accommodation and other expenses on a trip to Melbourne from April 19 to 21 in 2010.
But he also charged taxpayers a further $207 for staying in Adelaide on April 19.
In 2012, he claimed overnight stays in Adelaide on June 4 and 7. But his travel records show he claimed $412 in accommodation and other expenses on a trip to Perth between those dates.
“On both occasions, I had early flights to Melbourne and also for the Perth trip and stayed in Adelaide the night before to be able to meet the flight departures,” Mr Brock said.
“With the return from Perth, as you know that is a long flight and I would have stayed in Adelaide prior to travelling back to Port Pirie the next day.
“As for who would be responsible for payment, that would be the clerk of the House of Assembly.”