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News media ignores Abbott’s moral failure

August 30, 2014

By Barry Tucker

The News media should be all over Tony Abbott’s latest expenses rort. The implications of this moral failure are more serious than sending warplanes to Iraq.

The affair was mentioned in newspapers, on TV and radio (I can confirm hearing it on the ABC RN Breakfast show). However, it was merely mentioned and then dropped as an issue.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told ABC’s RN he could not recall Abbott telling his party room colleagues that he staged a visit to the Peter MacCallum cancer clinic in order to claim expenses for attending a fund raiser in Melbourne the previous day. Mr Turnbull told RN: “He did not say that to the party room.”

However, long-time Canberra political journalist Michelle Grattan, in an article in TheConversation today, has confirmed that Abbott had told his party room meeting about the rort. Grattan has a reputation for careful fact checking.

Grattan wrote: “… Abbott said he’d had a Monday night fund raiser in Melbourne that was followed next morning by a visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to bring the trip within official entitlements”.

So, the news media mentioned the incident and has now moved on. I think this shows poor news judgment. When you consider the past fuss over MPs rorting their travel entitlements, the treatment handed out to former LNP MP Peter Slipper for accepting roles of Deputy Speaker and Speaker (he was shopped to the Federal Police for a $900 infringement, which normally would be handled quietly under the Minchin Protocol) and the widespread criticism of the government’s harsh 2014 budget, this open admission by Abbott becomes a serious news story.

The situation shows that the rorting continues and the news media is not prepared to hold the rorters to account.

It could be argued that Abbott simply continued his long-standing practice of arranging trips that have a multiple purpose in order to justify claiming an MP’s travel entitlements. In this case it is quite clear that Abbott arranged the visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Clinic in order to claim expenses for his visit to Melbourne for the previous day’s Liberal party fund raiser. The visit to the Peter Mac served no other practical purpose. He made an announcement about a $64 million package to enhance security against terrorism on Australian soil and had a Q&A with journalists. The announcement could have been done by press release or by his deputy or another minister.

Abbott’s salary of more than $500,000 a year (plus benefits) is the highest in the western world (former Labor PMs Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd mark II received the same amount). The fact that he constantly tells lies, misleads the public and cheats to defraud the taxpayer tells us all we need to know about his moral values. It needs to be remembered that, as government leader, Abbott has the power to unilaterally commit Australian troops to war.

The incident raised the usual storm on social media. Here is one Tweeter’s reaction:

Abbott the Rorter

Abbott’s exploitation of his parliamentary expense account since his days as Opposition Leader from 1 December, 2009 have been a rich field for Twitter meme creators:

Abbots sports rorts

Abbott 4mill expenses

The total figure in the above meme is $4,264,065.

The federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, provides a similar example of rorting. The cigar smoking millionaire has brought down an extremely harsh budget, one that takes from the unemployed, the ill, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, parents and students while giving to wealthy individuals and industries. He says his budget is fair. Those who are hard up he calls “leaners”. Those who are well off he calls “lifters”.

Joe Hockey claims an MP’s accommodation expenses of $270 a night for sleeping in a $1.5 million Canberra home owned by family members. That’s $1,350 for five nights in what is virtually his own place. The taxpayer’s are buying this joint for the Hockey family.

Again, Hockey is merely taking advantage of the MPs entitlements as laid down in the rule book. While slamming those less well off as being “leaners”.

There is clearly something wrong here. That is why the news media is wrong to let go of this issue and of these two examples.

Abbott’s admission to the party room (stated in response to criticism for being one hour late for the party room meeting) is a clear statement of deliberate and premeditated fraud. Both Abbott and Hockey should be removed from office as quickly as possible in the best interest of the Parliament and the people.

This article was originally posted in TruthInNewsMedia, under the same title. The memes above did not appear in the original story.

Update, 5 September, 2014

MPs’ expense claims were in the news late last year. They involved Abbott, his Treasurer, Hockey, and Agriculture Minister and deputy National party leader Barnaby Joyce and Labor MP Mark Dreyfus. Those cases mainly involved MPs claiming expenses for attending the weddings of friends and colleagues.

A series of such questionable claims culminated in the case of WA Liberal MP Don Randall, who claimed some $5,000 expenses for a flight to Cairns with his wife. The couple later bought a property in the area. Randall said he had made the trip for a meeting related to party matters.

The affair received a lot of publicity then but the news media went silent on the subject of MPs’ expenses, until Abbott’s recent incredible statement to his party room.

The federal parliamentary library has copied this report, filed by its Electronic Media Monitoring Service. The sequence of events, the outcome, the comments by the Department of Finance and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are remarkable when compared to the treatment that was dished out to former Speaker Peter Slipper.

There are some questions our illustrious MSM will not deal with. Eg: Who shopped Peter Slipper? Why did the AFP not refer the matter back to the Finance dept? Why was the Minchin Protocol not applied to Slipper’s case?

In another case of pollies’ expenses and nasty politics, the Victorian government this week failed to have renegade MP Geoff Shaw expelled.

Premier Denis Napthine tabled the motion to expel former Liberal Shaw because his apology to Parliament about misuse of his parliamentary entitlements lacked sincerity.

The ruckus surrounding Shaw has cost the government a Speaker and disrupted the business of Parliament for months, even leading to its extraordinary suspension for a period.

In the UK, the Conservative former PM Margaret Thatcher (deceased) lit a powder keg when she allowed MPs generous leeway in claiming expenses in lieu of another pay rise (which are always unpopular for MPs). This went unremarked for some time but eventually exploded when the British Press (not as much under the thumb as ours) started to produce stories about the rorting. The leeway extended to outrageous claims for installation of swimming pools and maintenance of MPs’ properties.

UPDATE, June 7, 2017
Here is a long list of aspects of Tony Abbott’s character, compiled by a former SMH journalist who maintains the blog Australians for Honest Politics and tweets under the tag of @Thefinnigans.

  1. The media will do nothing. Abbott is Murdoch’s Annointed One. Until he isn’t.

  2. gorgeousdunny1 permalink

    Very astute and worthy piece, Barry. And you have raised again the question that has bothered so many of us. Why is the media unwilling to hold Mr Abbott and his colleagues accountable for what they say and do? While examining Labor to death. It has been that way for over four years.

    The reporting of government during the Gillard years consisted pretty much of the Gillard government as a minority is doomed to fall at any moment and nobody likes them, as the polls keep telling us. Rudd will make a challenge the minute she makes another media gaffe. Abbott will crush the minority on the floor of the house if he has to jail Craig Thomson to do so. We might us well just prepare for an election and a Labor wipe-out.

    Yet an extraordinary volume of legislation was passed, including major reforms on pricing carbon, smoking, education, NDIS and transport infrastructure. All of this during a period when our economic and employment performance was among the best in the world. And all achieved despite having to negotiate with diverse groups to get anything passed in both houses. It was a truly newsworthy performance but not considered so by those paid to report. Even Gillard’s Misogyny Speech was ignored until it went viral among social media and the world.

    Was this censorship or collective stupidity? The whole shameful period has been chronicled by Andrew Elder better than anyone. His most recent piece is no exception.

  3. Like so many other things, it quietly slips beneath the waves, rarely to be heard of again.
    Currently, too much oxygen is given to the diversionary topics, whilst embarrassing loose ends die with no further exposure.

    I could go on for many a para here but, when considering “a picture = 1000 words”, maybe this cartoon will do it for me . . . .


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