House of Representatives Speaker Bronwyn Bishop says she made an error of judgement spending $5227 on a helicopter for a 160km round trip between Melbourne and Geelong.
During a Sydney press conference, Bishop announced she would not be resigning saying that “one doesn’t resign for an error of judgement when it’s within the guidelines, and indeed it is”.
Last week, figures from a Department of Finance audit of politicians’ expenses revealed that Bishop had billed taxpayers $5227 to fly between the two cities — where a return taxi fare would be an estimated $350.
The Australian Federal Police referred the complaints to the Department of Finance for further investigation after it was reported that her helicopter chartered flight was for a Liberal fundraising event at a golf club.
But Bishop maintains that it was her “speaking engagement and I sign it as presiding officer to carry out my job to speaking to people of all sorts. I speak to community groups, I’ll speak to Liberal groups, I’ll even speak to Labor groups”.
“The point is we that don’t disqualify any person from being eligible for me to be a guest speaker at,” she said.
As a presiding officer, the speaker is allowed to use charter transport, including planes, for office holder duties only. Any charter transport trips must be approved by the special minister of state, Michael Ronaldson.
While the Speaker did say that the $5000 flight for 160km round trip was “totally unacceptable”, she also denied any intentional misuse of taxpayer funds after agreeing to refund the full amount to the Department of Finance.
“When I saw the figure, it looked large and I thought I should pay it, and am paying it,” she said.
“There’s been a political beat-up and I’m very sorry it’s taken the heat off Mr Shorten and his triple-whammy carbon tax bill,” Bishop told Sky News.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stood by Bishop over the incident saying that “she’s a good speaker, she has my confidence”.
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called out both Abbott and Bishop saying their “arrogance” is “breathtaking”.
“Just because you’re the godmother of the Liberal Party doesn’t mean you’re beyond reproach,” he said.
“Putting Bronwyn Bishop in the Speaker’s chair was another one of Tony Abbott’s captain’s calls. It’s time for Tony Abbott to stop protecting his political mentor.”
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