PM claims paid travel to ironman 'legitimate'

Tony Abbott.
Tony Abbott.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says it's "perfectly legitimate" for the public to pay for travel expenses related to his participation in charity and community sports events.

Abbott has already repaid more than A$1700 ($1921) he previously claimed to attend the 2006 weddings of two parliamentary colleagues because "the entitlement was unclear" and he wanted to remove any doubt.

The Prime Minister yesterday was forced to defend other claims made for taxpayer funds to offset expenses related to an ironman event and Pollie Pedal ride.

"I believe that all of my claims have been within entitlement," he told reporters in Bali, where he was attending the Apec leaders' forum.

Abbott claimed nearly A$1300 in flights and allowances to spend one night at Port Macquarie in November 2011, coinciding with his participation in the coastal New South Wales city's ironman event.

"Let's not forget that Port Macquarie was a marginal seat," Abbott said.

"I want to assure you I don't go to marginal seats simply for sporting events, although the sporting event in question was a community event and I think you'll find there were quite a few other community events involved in those visits."

In 2012, when Opposition leader, Abbott also claimed more than A$3500 to take part in the annual Pollie Pedal charity cycling event through regional Australia.

"Pollie Pedal is a very intense engagement with the community," he said. "It takes me to towns and communities ... that very rarely see a politician."

Abbott confirmed he intended to take part in the event again in 2014.

"It is a perfectly legitimate thing for a member of Parliament to do and yes, to the extent that it involves being away from home, I will charge travel allowances."

The Prime Minister invited critics to look over the Pollie Pedal schedules.

"Is this a frolic ... or is this a very serious act of community engagement? I think you'd have to conclude, if you are fair dinkum, that this is a very serious act of community engagement," he said.

With Abbott's expense claims under scrutiny, Labor leadership contender Bill Shorten suggested the guidelines for claims established by the Department of Finance should be simplified.

"This recent controversy shows that the guidelines need to be as unambiguous and as black and white as possible," Shorten told ABC Radio.

Abbott said MPs should err on the side of caution. "If there is any doubt they should resolve the doubt in favour of the taxpayer."

Travel expenses

Some events for which parliamentarians can claim domestic travel costs:

* Parliamentary sittings
* Parliamentary committee meetings
* Functions representing the Government
* Political party meetings
* Official government, parliamentary or vice-regal functions
* Non-statutory meetings
* Government advisory committee or task force meetings
* MPs and senators from different states and territories and electorates covering a greater area are entitled to claim more.

- AAP

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