Federal pollies cost Hunter $800k in six months

12/09/2019 Posted by admin

BIG SPENDERS: The Hunter’s federal MPs racked up an $800,00 expenses bill in the first six months of 2016. Retired Paterson MP Bob Baldwin spent $169,000, including three return trips to Perth. PICTURE: Glen McCurtayneBOB Baldwin charged taxpayers thousands of dollars for two trips to Perth in the months before he left parliament to meet with businessmen he now lobbies for.
Nanjing Night Net

The former Paterson MP was a backbencher in the final months of his parliamentary career when he spent almost $7000 on flights to meet with representatives from a company called Bluesightthat he now lists as a client of his new lobbyist firm, Outcomes Strategies Group.

Mr Baldwin said the trips were legitimate parliamentary business, that he had yet to receive any money from Bluesight, and that he had acted within the rules for lobbyists.

However the Australian government’s lobbyist code of conduct states ministers or parliamentary secretaries cannot lobby for activities “relating to any matter that they had official dealings with”in the last 18 months of their parliamentary career for 18 months after leaving office.

Mr Baldwin said the trips – in January and February of last year – related to his previous work as the parliamentary secretary for the environmentand that the then minister, Greg Hunt, had asked him to continue his work in the portfolio after he was demoted in Malcolm Turnbull’s first ministry.

During the trips, Mr Baldwin said he met with representatives from Engas and Bluesight, two sustainable energy firms that share a director – Brian Foster.

Mr Baldwin met with Mr Foster on at least one other occasion while still parliamentary secretary in 2015.

But Mr Baldwin denied the trips were an attempt to drum up work, and said he had “never received any payment from Brian Foster or campaign donations”.

He said he had still not received any payment from Bluesight, and was “doing the work out of personal interest”.

Mr Baldwin was the parliamentary secretary for the environment from December 2014 to September 2015,butsaid he continued to work on the portfolio, maintaining “dialogue with various players in the industry”.

“They were doing work on synthetic greenhouse gases, and I was still doing work with Greg Hunt in relation to the Montreal Protocol on the reduction of synthetic greenhouse gases,” he said.

Mr Hunt’s office provided theNewcastle Heraldwith a letter he sent to Mr Baldwin in which he thanked him for his work in the portfolio, and said that “given your background” he would “welcome your continued engagement and reports on ozone, synthetic greenhouse gas and natural refrigerant issues”.

Hunter federal MPs Pat Conroy, Meryl Swanson, Joel Fitzgibbon and Sharon Claydon. PICTURE: Jonathan Carroll

He did not respond to an inquiry about when the letter was sent.

It comes as aHeraldanalysis of politicians expenditurereveals the Hunter’s federal MPs racked up an $860,000 expenses bill in the first six months of 2016.

Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, the shadow agriculture minister, was the region’s biggest spender, shelling out $243,000 on travel costs, office expenses and electorate materials.

He said he believed politician’s expenses should be published more often, to increase transparency.

“Atthe moment we table claims every sixmonths so what you end up with is a big wad of paperwork a long time after the event,” he said.

“People see the costs, but what they don’t see is me when I’mup at 5am and awake until midnight travelling around the country,” he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s expensesincluded a week-long“overseas study trip” to the United Kingdom in January 2016 that cost taxpayers $8682, which he said was “invaluable”.

The two page “overseas study report” –which isthe only requirement the Finance Department places on MPs who take from taxpayer-funded overseas trips –stated the “main purpose” of hisvisit “was to further my knowledge of recent developments in the politics of the United Kingdom and implications for our own democracy and parliamentary system”.

During the trip he met with Lynton Crosby, top Liberal Party strategist and an adviser to the British Conservative Government, as well as a number of British Labour figures including EdMiliband’s former policy guru Lord Maurice Glasman, a prominent left-wing backer of Brexit.

“As part of my consultations, I attended a Labour conference in Birmingham where I spoke with a range of British Labour Party members about their most recent election outcome and the Party’s subsequent leadership election process and Its consequences for parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom,” he wrote.

Among the Hunter’s other MPs, Newcastle’sSharon Claydon spent $174,000 whileShortland MP Pat Conroy –the shadow assistant minister for climate change and infrastructure – spent $169,500.

Mr Baldwin also spent about $169,000, including onhis two trips to Perth.

A third trip toPerth in April cost $3750 in flights and car hire costs.

Mr Baldwin said that trip was to meet with representatives from Civmec, the company that acquired Forgacs last year to receive a briefing about the company’s intentions for the Tomago shipyard.

It was immediately after his return from the third Perthtrip that Mr Baldwin announced he would not recontest his seat at the 2016 federal election after previously sayinghe would run again.

Comments are closed.