Abbott claimed travel costs to get a free ride in Coffs

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott claimed $1,150.99 in travel expenses to participate in the 2012 Coffs Coast Cycle Challenge alongside Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott claimed $1,150.99 in travel expenses to participate in the 2012 Coffs Coast Cycle Challenge alongside Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker. Rob Wright/The Coffs Coast Advoc

TAXPAYERS footed a bill of $1150 when Tony Abbott participated in the 2012 Coffs Coast Cycle Challenge.

Official documents from the Department of Finance show the Opposition Leader claimed $349 in travel expenses for his one-night stay in Coffs Harbour as well as $653.24 in airfares and a further $148.75 for the use of Commonwealth vehicles.

Further research shows Mr Abbott also claimed expenses to participate in other events last year - namely the Pier to Pub swim in Lorne, the Hervey Bay Surf Lifesaving Pier to Pub swim and Wagga Wagga's Lake to Lagoon fun run - at a total cost of $5510.88.

So are such activities official business or pleasure?

The general rule of thumb is Mr Abbott simply has to say he's doing something for a community group and it can be argued he is performing official business.

Mr Abbott rode alongside Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker in Coffs Harbour as well as other members of the federal parliamentary cycling group called Riders on the Hill.

Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have a quiet chat prior to starting in the 2012 Coffs Coast Cycle Challenge. Photo: Rob Wright / Coffs Coast Advocate
Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have a quiet chat prior to starting in the 2012 Coffs Coast Cycle Challenge. Photo: Rob Wright / Coffs Coast Advocate Rob Wright/The Coffs Coast Advoc

Coffs City Rotary's Peter Wardman said the service club issued about 400 invitations to state and federal politicians to ride in the event, but he believed Mr Abbott was participating in response to an invitation from Mr Hartsuyker.

This is supported by a press release from Mr Hartsuyker's office, issued on July 26 last year, that indicated the MP "invited Mr Abbott to be part of the cycle challenge and the Coalition leader's office had today indicated that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will be a starter".

"As far as we (Coffs City Rotary) were concerned he (Mr Abbott) was a private citizen," Mr Wardman said.

Mr Wardman said he understood Mr Abbott attended a function the night before the Cycle Challenge. He also confirmed Mr Abbott did not attend the post-challenge presentations.

A spokesman from Mr Hartsuyker's office told The Advocate Mr Abbott attended two functions on the Saturday night - a drinks function at Coffs Harbour Golf Club and a dinner at C.ex Coffs.

"The main reason he came to Coffs was to participate in the cycle challenge," the spokesman said.

The Department of Finance told the Advocate it requires all MPs and senators to "personally certify that their use of entitlements are for the purposes for which they are provided, generally parliamentary, electorate and official business".

The department also "relies heavily upon self-assessment by parliamentarians for assurance that Commonwealth resources are used only within the terms of the relevant entitlement".

It was recently revealed Mr Abbott had to repay more than $9000 in travel expenses he racked up while promoting his book, Battlelines, in 2009.

Topics:  coffs coast cycle challenge federal election 2013 luke hartsuyker tony abbott travel expenses

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