OUR SAY: Ley might need to follow Cobb’s claims lead on claims

Former member for Calare John Cobb brought his entitlements claims into check in his last two years in office and it’s a lead Sussan Ley might be wishing she took.

When we wrote about Mr Cobb’s expenses in 2013, they were higher than Riverina MP Michael McCormack’s and in some categories, comparable to then-opposition leader Tony Abbott.

His office expenses were $181,571 compared to Mr Abbott, who spent $208,631.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has quite rightly asked his Health Minister, Ms Ley, to stand aside pending an inquiry into her use of ministerial travel entitlements.

Ms Ley, her spur-of-the-moment real estate purchases, and her many other forays to the Gold Coast have attracted widespread criticism.

Back in 2013, there were trips to Rockhampton and Darwin Mr Cobb declined to ask questions about, but toward the end of his term, his travel was almost exclusively between Orange and Canberra.

Sure, Mr Cobb was a backbencher last year, in contrast to 2013 when he was an opposition frontbencher, but it is apparent his spending was above board.

Ms Ley explained her 20 subsidised visits to Queensland's Gold Coast by pointing to the fact that the 2018 Commonwealth Games are to be held there, giving her as Minister for Sport a direct interest.

She explained two trips on New Year's Eve in 2013 and 2014 by saying she had been invited by a prominent Queensland businesswoman and in the absence of her lightning decision to bid for a flat there, her explanations and apologies for all these might pass muster.

But she also said she had been looking for awhile for a suitable Gold Coast property.

Until inquiries conclude, no one can say her numerous trips were scheduled in part to provide her with opportunities to inspect real estate, but the coincidence is convenient enough to look bad.

Politicians need to be able to travel around the country freely to do their work and learn about the different regions’ needs.

But her case also shows how easily travel for official purposes can be transformed by some non-official action along the way.

That adds weight to the argument for the Auditor-General to conduct an inquiry into the present case, who would be more likely to be able to assess the case dispassionately, and to recommend changes removing future temptation to stray from official business.


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