The Prime Minister told his colleagues that he was late into Canberra yesterday because he had to book an early morning function in Melbourne to enable him to claim travel allowance for attending a private function there the night before, Fairfax media is reporting.
The extraordinary admission – which Fairfax says has been confirmed by “several government sources” – was made yesterday, during a showdown in the party room with disgruntled Liberal-National Party Senator Ian MacDonald.
Fairfax is reporting that Senator MacDonald _ who was demoted form the front bench by Abbott – confronted the Prime Minister about being an hour late to the party room meeting, which occurs every Tuesday morning during parliamentary sitting weeks.
That’s when, Fairfax says, Mr Abbott dropped the ‘truth bomb’.
“Several government sources told Fairfax Media they were stunned to hear the Prime Minister respond to Senator Macdonald's complaint by saying he had to schedule an official function on Tuesday morning so he could justify being in Melbourne for a fund-raiser the night before under entitlements,” Fairfax has reported.
On Tuesday morning, Mr Abbott did indeed make an appearance in Melbourne – at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. But a transcript of the visit is unlikely to assist the PM’s cause in challenging Fairfax’s claim it was all about diddling his travel allowance.
Abbott “told a news conference he was there to talk about the proposed Medical Research Future Fund. He made no new announcements but reiterated his government's commitment to science and research,” Fairfax reported.
The transcript of Abbott's appearance – available on the PM's website – reveals that Abbott made a brief opening statement of just 205 words, before taking 14 questions, then ending the photo opportunity.
Fairfax reported that the Prime Minister’s office did not deny Abbott attended a private fundraiser the night before, but a spokesperson claimed that “all prime-ministerial travel is undertaken within entitlement”.
"Whenever the Prime Minister travels he maximises his visits by ensuring he participates in community events, business visits and local media," Fairfax reported the spokesperson as saying.
Under parliamentary travel rules, Mr Abbott is entitled to claim $432 for an overnight stay in Melbourne, but the trip would have cost taxpayers thousands because of the number of staff required to travel with the PM.
New Matilda is seeking comment from the Prime Minister’s office.
UPDATE: The Prime Minister's office declined to answer specific questions, and issued New Matilda the same statement published by Fairfax media, printed below.
The Prime Minister attended a private function in Melbourne on Monday night. All Prime Ministerial travel is undertaken within the rules.
Whenever the Prime Minister travels he maximises his visits by ensuring he participates in community events, business visits and local media.
The Prime Minister ran a little late to joint party room yesterday because his visit with researchers at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre ran over time.
The Prime Minister is a passionate supporter of medical research and the Government’s $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund and he makes no apologies for his visit.
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