Peter Slipper
Peter Slipper Warren Lynam

Pressure on ALP to act on petition

THE ALP is now under mounting national pressure to act on a petition calling for a full audit of Peter Slipper's travel expenses.

The petition remains trapped in a committee headed by a Labor Party MP.

The Fisher MP on Thursday boosted Prime Minister Julia Gillard's control of Parliament when he quit the LNP and took the lucrative position of Speaker.

John Murphy, the Labor Member for Reid, is chairman of the House of Representative petitions committee which is charged with considering petitions from voters and then bringing them to parliament with recommendations.

He was one of nine Labor members who, on Thursday, rejected invitations by the Liberal Party's Christopher Pyne to stand against Mr Slipper for Speaker.

Since Tuesday, Mr Murphy has failed to answer questions from the Sunshine Coast Daily about the status of the petition which seeks a detailed examination by the Department of Finance of all Mr Slipper's expense claims for the past decade.

The petition, signed by almost 2700 locals, asks that any audit "be overseen by the National Audit Office to assist with recommendations that may produce expenditure guidelines in line with community expectations".

If also requests "that expenditure provisions be tightened to require all Members to give detail of the parliamentary or electoral business that led to an expense being incurred''.

A spokesman for Mr Murphy on Tuesday said the petitions' committee would consider questions from the Daily the following day.

On Wednesday and Thursday he said the committee had resolved to respond to the Daily in writing.

Yesterdayfrid the same spokesman, Mr Murphy's chief of staff Frans Timmerman said he did not know how long the response would take. He said it was "in the hands of bureaucrats" but didn't know which ones.

Urged to seek that advice from Mr Murphy who should know because he heads the committee, Mr Timmerman said his boss was on a school visit but didn't know how long he would be.

"I'll ask him if I see him,'' Mr Timmerman said.

On Thursday Michael Danby, Labor's Member for Melbourne Ports, in seconding his party's nomination of Mr Slipper as Speaker chose to criticise this newspaper's attempts to hold the Member for Fisher to account.

"I have observed a man who has been attacked by his local media but who in this parliament has behaved extremely honourably and has discharged his duties well,'' Mr Danby said.

"Despite his reputation in the local newspapers-which have seemed to me to have political axes to grind-he has a great affinity with human rights."

But Coast pensioners are furious that Mr Slipper charged taxpayers' $57,000 for taxis, cars and limos which is considerably more than the annual $52,000 household income in his electorate.

Former Fisher Liberal Andrew Champion said on Friday that Mr Slipper had only ever done service to himself.

At some point in the New Year when Parliament resumes its rules will require that Mr Murphy and his committee to present the Sunshine Coast petition for determination.

Parliamentarians will then by their actions show if they consider it reasonable, as Mr Slipper has done, to bill taxpayers nearly $7000 for travel during 15 days when parliament is in recess or to run up a taxi fare of $310 for a night on the town.

Mr Danby clearly finds such behaviour acceptable.

Meanwhile The Australian newspaper today reported that the Australian Federal Police have widened an investigation into the use of travel expenses by Peter Slipper's office.

The Daily understands the investigation relates to the use of a fuel card by a staffer within Mr Slipper's office.

The AFP probe was first revealed in a story in the Daily in April this year.

At the time, Mr Slipper declined to comment on the police search except to issue a statement through his spokesman saying AFP officers had seized "certain documents".

Mr Slipper was on on a 43-day "study trip" in Europe with his wife Inge which cost taxpayers more than $25,000.

At the time, Mr Slipper's spokesman denied the office had been "raided" and said the MP's office had "cooperated fully" with the AFP officers. He said no computers were taken from the office, only documents.

The Australian today reported that Mr Slipper's travel and office expenses have totalled about $1.8 million since 2007, including regular $280 travel taxi trips between Brisbane airport and his home on the Coast.

In the first half of this year, he has spent almost $1100 a day on airfares, taxis, commonwealth cars and office supplies - double that of the nation's most frugal MP.

Mr Slipper's expense bill for between January 1 and June 30 this year is $194,297.98 - well down on the more than $700,000 he spent last year. However, his expenses normally go up in the second half of the year.

As the Daily has previously reported, Mr Slipper regularly racks up taxi bills of hundreds of dollars each time, with drivers reporting that he has them wait for him for lengthy periods.

Questions have been continually raised over why he continues to fly to Canberra via Sydney.

In the past, Mr Slipper has always justified his travel on the basis of 'parliamentary' and electorate business but refused to detail his trips to the Daily - or the public benefit of them.

Mr Slipper refused to return calls to the media yesterday.

He was personally invited by the Daily to write an open letter to the people of the Sunshine Coast detailing why he had backed Labor in taking on the Speaker's role, despite being elected by almost 40,000 LNP supporters.

His message bank was overflowing with unanswered calls.

The invitation to Mr Slipper remains open.



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