Former Speaker Peter Slipper has weighed into the expenses scandal, saying it was “breathtaking” that other politicians were allowed to pay back inappropriate entitlements while he faced court for his.
Mr Slipper, who could be jailed if found guilty of a taxpayer-funded tour of wineries using his government Cabcharge card, says he tried to repay about $1000 of expenses, but was not allowed to do so.
Other MPs, including the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have used the Minchin Protocol, which allows politicians to repay wrongly claimed entitlements without further consequences.
“What is breathtaking is that I am before a court … despite a number of attempts on my part to resolve the matter administratively,” Mr Slipper told Fairfax Media.
“Yet others are able to write cheques for much more in repayment, and in their cases the matter’s closed and no questions asked.”
Mr Slipper suggested his treatment made a “mockery of justice and fairness in this country … not to mention the almost $70,000 for the cost to the taxpayer of a seven-day trial.”
Court summons documents allege that on three occasions in 2010, Mr Slipper took a hire car to visit wineries that include the top-rated Clonakilla winery.
On one trip in January 2010, Mr Slipper allegedly travelled from Parliament House to six wineries before returning the hire car to a Canberra suburb. Mr Slipper also allegedly travelled to wineries using government Cabcharges again in April and June 2010.
"Mr Slipper knew that he was not entitled to use the Cabcharge card to pay for the hire-car fare, but he did so," the description of offences says.
The rules state that MPs can travel at government expense only if they are undertaking "parliamentary, electorate or official business".
Mr Slipper said it did the law “little credit” when similar cases were handled differently.
Mr Slipper said he believed he had been "targeted by the Coalition for accepting the Speakership".
PM defends wedding claims
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is in Bali for the APEC summit, told journalists he had examined his own expenses after the ''controversy arose'' last week about his colleagues using taxpayer funds to attend the 2011 wedding of the shock jock Michael Smith.
''I remembered that some seven years ago, I had been to a couple of weddings and so I went back and I checked,'' Mr Abbott said.
''I was advised... that the entitlement was unclear and so, in order to avoid doubt, I paid the relevant money back and, look, that's what people should do.''
Mr Abbott suggested his colleagues should ''err on the side of caution'' and if they had any doubts about their entitlements they should ''act immediately to clear the matter up''.
He said that was what he had done when he repaid $1095 he spent travelling to former colleague Sophie Mirabella's wedding in 2006.
Ask why he would claim travel to a wedding in the first place, Mr Abbott replied that at the time he was the leader of the House of Representatives and had ''certain representational roles'' he believed were ''within entitlements''.
Greens urge crackdown
Greens leader Christine Milne says the next Parliament must urgently pass legislation to clean up politicians' entitlements.
Senator Milne said she would introduce a private member's bill once the new Parliament begins, expected to be next month, which would establish an independent commissioner and a parliamentary adviser to oversee entitlements.
"This scandal has reached the highest political office in the country and must end now," Senator Milne said.
The Greens had legislation before the last Parliament to oversee MPs' expenses with a National Integrity Commissioner, but Labor and the Coalition refused to act, she said.
"The Greens will move our integrity legislation again as soon as parliament returns," she said in a statement.
The Greens' move comes after Fairfax Media revealed at the weekend that Coalition MPs had charged taxpayers about $15,000 to attend three separate weddings, and Labor MP Bernie Ripoll had watched the Tour de France on his French "study tour".
Mr Abbott also confirmed he repaid $1095 spent in travelling to the wedding of former colleague Sophie Mirabella seven years ago. The return of the money was prompted by media inquiries last week.
"The next wedding charged to the taxpayer should be an iron-clad marriage between elected public office and accountability with a National Integrity Commissioner," Senator Milne said.
"It's clear MPs need someone with whom they can discuss the appropriateness or otherwise of particular claims."
MPs could not make the issue go away simply by paying back money when they get caught out, she said.
Nor could they "hound the other side" when in opposition and then repay their own "inappropriate claims when in government".
The expenses scandal is "a serious institutional problem when MPs think it is defendable [sic] to make such dubious claims," Senator Milne said.
Greens Senator Richard Di Natale said the system of entitlements was ''very confusing and allowed ''politicians to exploit it''.
''What we've seen is Coalition politicians exploiting the parliamentary entitlements . . . effectively ripping off the taxpayer,'' he said.
Reputations at risk: Hewson
Former Liberal leader John Hewson has also warned Coalition MPs that they risk undermining their reputations as economic managers by charging taxpayers for personal indulgences such as wedding travel.
Dr Hewson said any new prime minister must set clear standards for the team as the ''fish rots from the head''.
Coalition MPs couldn't ''run on the line that [they] want to control government expenditure'' and at the same time waste taxpayers' money on their personal lives.
''I think that in the early days of any government you need to set the standards,'' Dr Hewson said.
But former Howard government minister Peter Reith disagreed, describing the wedding expense scandals as ''petty'' and arguing that politicians should be entitled to unlimited travel.
''I don't understand how you can have a system which says that some things that ministers do are part of business and others aren't,'' Mr Reith said.
''I think it's ridiculous putting limits on where ministers can go.''
Expenses scandals marred the early days of the Howard government with seven cabinet ministers resigning after breaching rules that required ministers to divest shares in portfolios they oversaw and be truthful in Parliament.
As a minister Mr Reith racked up a $50,000 phone bill at taxpayers' expense, which he repaid.
Asked whether taxpayers should foot the bill for MPs to attend weddings, Mr Reith said: ''Since when is that not being part of being a politician, you know, going out for lunch with a shock jock or going to his wedding? You'd be a mug if you didn't go to a shock jock's wedding if you're invited.''
In the past week, Attorney-General George Brandis and Agriculture Minister Mr Joyce reimbursed taxpayers after Fairfax Media revealed they had used public funds to attend the wedding of their friend, broadcaster Michael Smith, in 2011.
Joyce hits back
Mr Joyce said on Monday that political opponents were trying to ''level the score'' after the Coalition won the federal election by exposing his past travel claims.
''That's what happens in politics,'' he told Fairfax Radio in Melbourne.
''We never did anything illegal. You did everything that you were basically entitled to do.''
Mr Joyce said his decision to take a study tour to Malaysia after the Indian wedding actually made it cheaper for the taxpayer since Ms Rinehart paid for half the trip.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard's office has previously defended her use of a VIP jet to attend the wedding of her press secretary in Byron Bay last March, saying Ms Gillard had other commitments in the area.
Last month documents released under freedom of information laws showed Ms Gillard repaid $4243 in 2007 when she was deputy opposition leader in relation to her partner Tim Mathieson's private use of a taxpayer-funded car.