Australian PM hit by travel expenses, sexism furor


Wed, Oct 09, 2013 - Page 6

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was embroiled in a spiraling travel expenses scandal yesterday as he defended his use of taxpayer money to take part in an Ironman competition and other events.

The controversy erupted as Abbott, who was elected to office last month vowing to lead a government that would “live within its means,” attends the APEC forum in Indonesia.

Last week, he voluntarily repaid about A$1,700 (US$1,600) in travel expenses claimed for attending the weddings of two former colleagues in 2006.

He did so following uproar over two senior members of his coalition billing taxpayers thousands of dollars to attend a wedding.

One of the weddings Abbott claimed for involved former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper, who he vigorously pursued last year over his alleged misuse of taxi vouchers to visit Canberra wineries, sparking accusations of hypocrisy.

Australian media revealed yesterday that Abbott, who has a macho reputation, charged taxpayers almost A$1,300 in travel and accommodation costs to compete in a 2011 triathlon event.

He also routinely claimed a travel allowance and flights to take part in the annual 1,000km Pollie Pedal charity cycling trip through Australia, it was reported.

Abbott insisted it was “perfectly legitimate” for the public to pay for travel expenses for his participation in charity and community events.

“I believe that all of my claims have been within entitlement,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the forum, but added: “People should be careful and cautious when they claim entitlement. If there is any doubt they should resolve the doubt in favor of the taxpayer.”

Abbott’s image took another blow yesterday when he was announced as a nominee for the annual Ernie Awards, which are “awarded” for sexism.

“Vicious” comments about former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard dominated entries to the awards, with Abbott the “most constant” offender, organizers said.

There were more than 100 entries for this year’s event, where winners will be decided by a “boo-off” at a gala dinner in Sydney today.

Ernie founder Meredith Burgmann saying Gillard’s ascension had seen unprecedented hostility against women by lawmakers and the press.

Topping the list in the politics category is lawmaker Mal Brough for the menu at his election fundraiser featuring “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail: Small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.”

Gaffe-prone Abbott was nominated for 11 remarks, including his touting of a female political candidate’s “sex appeal” as a reason to vote for her, his “disappointment” at only appointing one woman to his Cabinet and saying his daughters “don’t want to leave home until such time as they get married.”

Former Labor Party leader Mark Latham could give Brough and Abbott a run for their money with his remarks dismissing Abbott’s “sex appeal” candidate as a case of “beer goggles” and “low standards.”

Gillard provided plenty of fodder for the media category nominations, including a radio shock jock who was fired after alleging that her boyfriend, Tim Mathieson, was gay because he was a hairdresser and another commentator who said her elderly father had “died from shame.”

Burgmann said sportspeople were “still keeping their end up,” with former Wallaby David Campese complaining about a “girl” reporting on the sport and Socceroos coach Holger Osieck saying “women should shut up in public.”