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LNP senator Ian Macdonald spent $25,000 on pre-election ads under 'exceptional circumstances'

By political reporters Jackson Gothe-Snape and Amy Greenbank, Thursday June 20, 2019 - 05:12 EST
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Queensland senator Ian Macdonald was elected to the senate in 1990. - ABC

Two months before the election, a Queensland LNP senator spent thousands of taxpayer dollars advertising his face and name alongside information about the availability of flood relief.

But the money did not come out of his ordinary office budget. Instead it was granted under the first ever use of "exceptional circumstances" within new parliamentary expenses laws.

The new laws were brought in following the 'Choppergate' outrage, when former speaker Bronwyn Bishop chartered a helicopter contrary to community expectations.

During March, 23 separate "printed items" were paid for by Senator Ian Macdonald at a cost of $25,096.69 — some within two months of the election.

Senator Macdonald said the spending was for advertising government disaster relief payments following the Queensland floods.

The ABC reviewed 1899 expense reports going back to April 2017.

No other MP has been granted money under this exception, even though relief has been available for dozens of disasters during this period including the Tathra bushfires which destroyed almost 70 homes and flooding in Hobart which saw close to $100 million in damages.

Flood justification

The Townsville-based senator, who finishes his term later this month after failing in his bid for re-election, argued flood relief was not getting through to a "stressed public" at the time.

He said the funds were used to advise people of what was available and how they could access the relief arrangements.

"I have no idea how that was accounted for in departmental records or how the process came about."

"We were simply told that we should let victims know what was available and money was provided for that information process."

The Department of Human Services is responsible for publicising disaster assistance.

According to information provided by the department, it undertakes little formal advertising because internal research has found word of mouth is the most effective way to get the message out.

The new expenses framework explicitly states parliamentarians "must be prepared to justify publicly their use of those resources" and how the use delivers value for taxpayers' money.

Alex Hawke, Special Minister of State in March, and Senator Mathias Cormann, the current Minister, declined to respond to requests for an explanation.

The older scheme also allowed additional funds to be granted under "exceptional circumstances" but was capped at $20,000 per year for each MP.

Following the post-Choppergate reforms, a cap no longer applies.

Senator Macdonald was relegated to fourth position on the Queensland LNP ticket .

A senator since 1990, he secured more than 10,000 first preference below-the-line votes, but fell well short of the votes required for re-election.


© ABC 2019

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