Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Hockey's own Age of Entitlement. Joe the Farmer's travel claims

Joe Hockey has talked of the end of the age of entitlement, and spoken of how we citizens have unreasonable expectations and need to be more self reliant.  It seems proper therefore to scrutinize JoHo's own behaviour and expectations.  For example he has previously been criticised for failing to declare and disclose his own interests (1, 2).  Perhaps there is more. 

JoHo owns property outside Cairns in North Queensland including a farmstay on the Atherton Tablelands. He purchased an additional property around Feb 2010.  Coincidentally, Cairns is also a common destination for JoHo on his work-related travel. The information listed below from his parliamentary entitlement reports show that over the 3 years from 2010 to 2012 JoHo travelled to Cairns 9 times at the taxpayer expense.  He spent over $9500 of taxpayer funds on occasions where there is little evidence of work activity.  On 2 occasions he hired a vehicle at taxpayer expense during his stay.  It is on the public record that he was on leave on one occasion when he travelled to FNQ, and there is solid evidence that he stayed at the Atherton Tablelands.

Could it be that while calling for the end of the age of entitlement for others JoHo has been using public funds and arranging his travel itinery to regularly visit his farm in FNQ?

On 1/4/10 (only a month or so after purchasing his new property) JoHo flew from Sydney to Cairns ($956.55 at taxpayer expense).  He hired a car for $122.82 at taxpayer expense which is strange as it is more usual to use a comcar or a taxi for work purposes.  He made no claim for Travel Allowance for his overnight stay in Cairns, and the following day (2/4/10) flew from Cairns back to Brisbane (another $732.27 at taxpayer expense).  There is no record I could find of any interviews, transcripts or public appearances in Cairns/FNQ during this period to demonstrate his work activities.  Pehaps I am cynical but could the hire car have been to travel to his property on the Atherton Tablelands outside of Cairns?  I think this qualifies as a dubious travel claim.

On 14/7/10 JoHo flew from Sydney to Brisbane to Gladstone.  He claimed Travel Allowance for his stay in Gladstone.  The next day (15/7/10) he flew from Gladstone to Mackay and on to Townsville (all at taxpayer expense).  In Townsville he used a Comcar for his travel (cost of $770.00). But he also hired a car in Townsville on 15/7 which he returned in Cairns three days later on 18/7.  This cost the taxpayers a further $316.12.  Despite claiming travel allowance in Gladstone, JoHo claimed no Travel Allowance for these next three nights.   Then on 18/7/10 he flew from Cairns to Sydney (total cost of $1,157.79 for flights from Mackay to Townsville and from Cairns to Sydney).  Again, I could find no record of any interviews, transcripts or public appearances in the Cairns region to demonstrate his work activities.  This seems another dubious travel claim.  The election was called on 17/7/10.
Less than a month later, JoHo is back in FNQ, claiming Travel Allowance and the cost of some flights.  He is clearly campaigning for the upcoming election (3) and perhaps supported by an LNP private charter (declared in his pecuniary interest register on 7/10/10). This travel may be legitimate.

Two months later on 10/10/10, after the federal election, JoHo again travels back to FNQ. His entitlement reports show he flew (at taxpayer expense) from Sydney to Cairns ($924.02).  He was accompanied by a family member (flight costs a further $924.02).  It is strange that once he arrived in Cairns he made no claims for Travel Allowance, no Comcar costs, no taxi, no hire car, and no return flights.  However it’s even stranger when you realise that at the very same time (10/10/10) a news story on ABC radio news program “The World Today” reported that Mr Hockey was unable to comment because he was “on leave” ! (4)  This is a decidedly dubious travel claim.

In April the following year (2011) JoHo made his next official trip back to FNQ.  On 1/4/11, he flew from Sydney to Darwin and claimed Travel Allowance ($122) for his overnight stay in Darwin, and comcar costs of $690 over those two days.  On 2/4/11 he flew from Darwin to Cairns, but once in Cairns did not claim Travel Allowance or any comcar expenses.  Having spent a night in the Cairns region, he flew from Cairns back to Sydney the following day (3/4/11).  All up, his flight costs were $2664.57.  Interestingly, on the return flight from Cairns JoHo is joined by a family member flying at taxpayer expense ($1012.13).  Again, I could find no record of any interviews, transcripts or public appearances in the Cairns region to demonstrate his work activities.  This seems a seriously dubious travel claim as the deviation to Cairns seems not to be for work purposes.

Three months later JoHo flew from Townsville to Cairns on 13/7/11.  He claimed Travel Allowance in Cairns for two evenings. While there were no comcar, taxi or hire car expenses claimed, there was evidence of work activities. He attended a public morning tea with Warren Entsch on 14/7/11 and was present when redevelopment plans for the Port Douglas Sheraton Mirage were unveiled (5).  JoHo flew from Cairns to Sydney on 15/7/11.  Although a little strange, this is likely to reflect duties as a shadow minister and a legitimate use of travel entitlements.

In October 2011, JoHo again flew from Brisbane into Cairns (7/10/11, cost included in other flights).  He claimed Travel Allowance ($265) for one evening.  But despite apparently remaining in Cairns for the following two nights, he does not claim further Travel Allowance.  On 10/10/11, JoHo flew from Cairns to Brisbane at a cost of $1099.  I could find no record of any interviews, transcripts or public appearances in the Cairns region during this period.  However, Steve Lewis from News Limited reports that “Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey is understood to have done three dinners, two cocktail functions and a fundraising lunch across three states in the past week alone” (6)  (Over the previous week he flew at taxpayer expense between Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Karratha, Brisbane and Cairns.  Maybe this should be looked at further).  Perhaps this is further travel with personal benefits or perhaps it is travel to coincide with an LNP fundraising event. Either way, it seems dubious. 

On 9/3/12 JoHo makes another brief trip to Cairns, flying from Brisbane to Cairns and returning through Brisbane to Sydney on the same day (cost of $1735.70).  I could find no record of work activity in Cairns.  Perhaps this was a fundraising function. Perhaps legitimate duties? 

There is one more trip by JoHo to FNQ in the available entitlement reports.  On 5/7/12, JoHo was in Melbourne where he claimed Travel Allowance ($354) for his overnight stay.  On 6/7/12 he flew from Melbourne to Cairns with a return flight from Cairns to Brisbane on 12/7/12 (flights were $2110.72 at taxpayer expense).  On arrival in Cairns JoHo claimed no Travel Allowance. His entitlement report shows no taxpayer-funded use of comcar, taxi or hire car in Cairns.  He does appear in a milking competition at the Malanda show on 7/7/12 (7)  (He says he also went to an IGA and talked about the carbon tax).  Apart from this JoHo isn’t sighted until he does a doorstop with Warren Entsch in Cairns on 12/7 the day of his return flight (transcript on his website).  The prior transcript was from 3/7 well before this travel, suggesting little public engagement.  There is one other source of information about his whereabouts during this week.  JoHo did a radio interview with ABC Melbourne (the fight club) on 11/7 and during the introduction the host Raphael Epstein noted that JoHo was “on the Atherton Tablelands”. (8)  So it seems likely JoHo flew to Cairns at taxpayer expense, stayed at his Malanda property for the week and had no “official” duties apart from milking a cow and a doorstop interview on his way home.  On 12/7/12 after flying to Brisbane, JoHo claimed Travel Allowance of $371 for an overnight stay. This is a very very dubious travel claim.

Of course it could be that JoHo visited Cairns 9 times (at taxpayer expense) over a three year period because he wants to meet with the public wherever they live.  If so we would expect JoHo to also travel extensively to similarly sized cities and towns around Australia.  The population of the greater Cairns region is around 140,000.  In comparison, the population of Hobart is around 216,000 but JoHo only visited Tasmania at taxpayer expense 4 times over the three years.  The population of Adelaide is 1,277,000 (almost 9 times the population of Cairns) and yet JoHo visited Adelaide 10 times (only 1 more than the much smaller and more distant Cairns).  And most importantly, the population of Townsville is 172,000 (larger than Cairns) and yet over the three years in question JoHo only travelled at the taxpayers expense to Townsville twice and on both occasions it was a stop-over on his way to Cairns.  It certainly seems he had a particular interest in travel to Cairns.

So what have we learned?  We know:
-    JoHo has property in the Atherton Tablelands on which he operates a farmstay
-    his parliamentary travel itinery has an unusually large number of journeys to Cairns, particularly when compared to his travel to other similar sized cities around Australia
-    there are (at least) 6 occasions between 2010 and 2012 where he claimed taxpayer funds in respect of travel to the Cairns region but where there is little evidence in media reports and transcripts of work-related activities
-    a number of these trips involved travel with family members at taxpayer expense
-    on at least two occasions he claimed expenses for a hire vehicle rather than using comcar or taxis when in FNQ
-    while his flight costs are charged to the taxpayer, JoHo doesn't often seem to claim Travel Allowance or comcar/taxi expenses while in FNQ despite the fact he claims such entitlements for other overnight stays.  When he does claim Travel Allowance in Cairns there is generally evidence of work-related activity.  This suggests there may be a signifiant personal component to much of his travel to FNQ
-    (from an ABC transcript) on one occasion when he travelled at taxpayer expense to FNQ he was on leave
-    (from another ABC transcript) on one occasion when he travelled to Cairns he was definitely staying on the Atherton Tablelands.

Now this may all be completely legitimate travel, entirely appropriate and consistent with the regulations.  However, given this is the man who announced that “the age of entitlement is over” I think the personal component of this travel requires further investigation. As with TAbbott's sporting and volunteering claims, it is the consistency of the pattern of behaviour over an extended period of time which suggests a deliberate strategy rather than coincidence or error.

At that speech at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London JoHo said “The problem arises however when there is a belief that one person has a right to a good or service that someone else will pay for”.  He also said that “governments must accept their responsibilities to fiscal discipline and the prudent use of their citizens hard earned monies” and “eventually the piper has to be paid”.

Couldn't have put it better myself.  Perhaps the sound you hear is the piper calling you to join him.

(1)    http://www.news.com.au/national-news/federal-election/joe-hockey-declares-wife8217s-company-directorship-14-years-after-the-appointment/story-fnho52ip-1226705278752#ixzz2dJJamZCe
(2)    http://www.tourismportdouglas.com.au/Malanda-farm-lands-Joe-Hockey-in-hot-wat.4405.0.html
(3)    http://www.abc.net.au/site-archive/rural/content/2010/s2970990.htm
(4)    http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2010/s3034745.htm
(5)    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqXB9NwMCMc
(6)    http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/national/liberal-party-prepare-war-chest-for-snap-poll/story-e6frg15u-1226162594092
(7)    http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/article/2012/07/09/506405_latest-news.html
(8)    http://ministers.treasury.gov.au/DisplayDocs.aspx?doc=transcripts/2012/069.htm&pageID=004&min=djba&Year=&DocType
(9)    http://www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/in-the-media/files/The%20Age%20of%20Entitlement%20Joe%20Hockey%2017%20April%202012%20.pdf

As a shadow minister, JoHo was entitled to somewhat enhanced conditions relating to Travel Allowance and car transport, but was subject to the same conditions as other members and senators for flights.  That is, scheduled commercial transport is permitted when on parliamentary business, electorate business or official business, but excluding party business other than meetings of a Parliamentary political party, or of its executive, or of its committees, and the national conference of a political party.
‘Official business’, for the purpose of the domestic travel entitlement means attendance at 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; and 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. 
It is difficult to see how the travel described above fits within these guidelines.