Michael Danby silent on using Commonwealth limousines for personal holidays

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten arrives by a comcar for his visit to the Sydney Markets on Friday 11 December 2015. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFederal Labor MP Michael Danby has refused to explain how and why he used Commonwealth limousines on personal holidays to Queensland that he later claimed were charged to taxpayers because of administrative error.

The Melbourne Ports MP charged taxpayers about $500 for COMCARs to and from the airport on three trips to the Gold Coast or Cairns for which he had no official parliamentary business. The trips took place in 2010, 2012 and 2015.

Mr Danby says he reimbursed the Commonwealth for those holidays last year after a self-audit, including flights and car costs. He claimed the trips were charged to the taxpayer in error by his staff, caused by the fact he used the same booking agent for personal and business travel.

However, the COMCAR booking system is completely separate to the booking agency used for airfares. Mr Danby has also refused to explain how he could have taken a Commonwealth limousine to the airport for a personal holiday and failed to realise a mistake had been made.

COMCARs are only to be used while MPs are in Canberra, if they are interstate on parliamentary business, or if they are travelling to the airport in their home city for parliamentary business.

Several former MPs who are intimately familiar with the parliamentary expenses system told Fairfax Media administrative errors did happen, but it was virtually impossible for such a mistake to go unrealised. They said the right way to deal with such a mistake was: “Don’t get in the car.”

Fairfax Media asked Mr Danby about the COMCAR expenses but neither he nor his spokesman answered questions or returned calls.

Earlier this week Fairfax Media revealed Mr Danby charged taxpayers almost $15,000 for six trips to Queensland over a period of six years, accompanied by his wife, who also travelled at taxpayers’ expense.

Mr Danby – who holds the seat of Melbourne Ports – identified parliamentary business for three of those trips, which included meetings with Labor hero Con Sciacca, who had been out of Parliament more than five years, as well as union functions and a protest.

He said he reimbursed the Commonwealth for the other three trips, including a holiday to Cairns in 2012 and a trip to the Gold Coast in January 2015, after a self-audit last year prompted by the downfall of former cabinet minister Sussan Ley.

Labor leader Bill Shorten was on leave this week and through a spokesman declined to comment on Mr Danby’s travel. Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was a reminder for all MPs of the need to follow the rules.

In comments to other media outlets, Mr Danby described Fairfax Media’s reporting on his travel as a misleading “attack”.