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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Unfair outrage over expenses, says Peter Reith

Peter Reith says he doesn't like talking about a politician's expenses, yet he's written an article about it in The Drum today. Not surprisingly, he's come out in support of Tony Abbott, George Brandis and Barnaby Joyce who all had to pay back travel expenses not considered kosher. And he knows how it feels because it happened to him when he was Workplace Relations Minister.  He racked up a phone bill of $50,000 and admitted he had given his son his card, a clear breach of the rules.

He writes:  I got done over on one of these issues because I told my 19 year old son how to ring me in case of an emergency whilst he was on a driving trip to WA.  He never had an emergency and I never thought about it again for five years when Telstra told me of fraud on my telecard.  I immediately initiated the matter with the Finance Department who had been paying huge telephone bills for five years without ever having the common sense to tell me about it.  The Finance Department does not have a good record in managing these issues and a new set of rules is unlikely to bring an end to claims scandals.

Peter Reith was a senior cabinet minister in the Howard government from 1996 to 2001.  He was at the forefront of the Waterfront dispute involving Patrick and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).  Union members were eventually replaced by non-union staff.  Some think it was a tragic day for the union movement while others think he did a fantastic job that put an end to ongoing waterfront strikes.

In 2001, when he was Defence Minister, Reith was informed that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard in order to be rescued.  Later when his office learnt that it wasn't true, he didn't correct the statement and allowed four weeks of the election campaign to pass before admitting it was a lie. 

The accusation that asylum seekers were prepared to kill their own children to get into Australia was a low act and he let the Australian people believe it for four weeks.  To this day, he refuses to admit he did anything wrong. "I relied on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force for the comments I made" he said.

Mr Reith thinks that claiming expenses to attend a wedding is okay. Today he writes:  As for weddings, they are a social occasion. Politicians go to lots of social occasions to talk with constituents and all sorts of people from different elements of our society.  Social events are a form of networking for politicians.  It is a compliment to go to a wedding and a great opportunity to get to know someone in a way you would never have at a public meeting.  To be invited to a wedding of a shock jock seems a political opportunity not to be missed.  Politicians need those sorts of contacts to do their job and that often means an opportunity to put across their policy or other matter of government business.  MPs should be able to travel anywhere in Australia without specifying who they meet.

Sophie Mirabella's wedding

Nice try Mr Reith, but some of us aren't buying it.