Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ordered an investigation into why his Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert has been slugging taxpayers up to $2,800 a month for internet bills at his home on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
Mr Robert, the Member for Fadden, said “connectivity issues” at his home on Queensland’s Gold Coast were to blame for his unusually high bills.
Mr Robert charged taxpayers more than $11,000 for home data over a six-month period, the latest parliamentarians’ expenditure reports show, which is an average of $1,846 a month for internet usage.
“My family home is located a significant distance from the telephone exchange resulting in poor broadband internet connectivity,” Mr Robert said in a statement.
“At the time a 4G Home Wi-Fi internet connection was the only way to receive reliable and stable internet access.
“My internet, like many in semi-rural areas, was previously unreliable which interfered with my ability to perform my parliamentary and Ministerial duties.”
He said the NBN was now being rolled out in his area and he was seeking to be connected to the network.
“When installed, this will result in an immediate drop in costs to a level similar to other parliamentarians,” he said.
Mr Morrison said the Federal Government minister responsible for the administration of parliamentary entitlements was looking into the matter.
“Once I’ve heard from the special minister of state, we’ll take the next step,” Mr Morrison said.
He said Australians would “want an explanation” about why a MP was spending up to $90 a day for home internet.
In May, taxpayers forked out $2,831 for the Assistant Treasurer’s internet bill.
The bill came to $2,704 in April, $1,686 in March, $1,813 at the end of February, $186 in January and $1,859 at the end of December 2017.
Mr Robert agreed late on Friday to pay back the money, but it is not yet clear how much he will repay.
Contempt for taxpayer money, Opposition says
Opposition communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said a further explanation was needed.
“It’s telling that a Member of Parliament with such contempt for taxpayer money was elevated by Scott Morrison to the position of Assistant Treasurer,” Ms Rowland said.
“Stuart Robert needs to explain why taxpayers are forking out thousands of dollars every month for his internet access, when alternative options are available at a fraction of the cost.”
Federal politicians are entitled to claim many expenses, including home internet and telephone.
Earlier Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said he would not ask his department to investigate Mr Robert’s high internet bills.
Senator Cormann told Sky News it was up to the department whether it chose to investigate, but an explanation had already been provided.
“The person that’s going to be accountable in relation to these matters always is the individual member or senator,” Senator Cormann said.
“That is, it’s the individual member or senator that needs to explain and justify their expense arrangements, which I understand Mr Robert has.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was up to others to others decide whether Mr Robert’s level of data usage use was acceptable.
“There’s no doubt that Stuart Robert is a very controversial figure and the controversy seems to follow him,” Mr Shorten said.
Mr Robert, who was a key backer of Mr Morrison’s tilt for the leadership, was promoted to the frontbench after the Liberal leadership turmoil.
He had been forced to step down as human services minister in 2016 after questions about his business interests.
An investigation by the secretary of the Prime Minister’s department revealed Mr Robert had breached the Statement of Ministerial Standards by having shares in a trust linked to the mining company of a generous Liberal donor.