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Senator David Van billed taxpayers for accommodation in the Whitsundays region while he was onboard an all-expenses-paid voyage on a defence ship as part of an $8000 trip to Queensland that began just before his home city of Melbourne was locked down.
The former Liberal, who was pressured to quit the party after multiple allegations of touching women which he denies, travelled to the Whitsundays on July 13, 2021 where he joined an Australian Defence Force vessel.
Senator David Van during a visit to Australia’s main operating base in the Middle East region in 2020.
Accommodation was provided by the ADF but Van claimed $2208 in travel allowance – an expenditure that is considered within the guidelines of parliamentary travel entitlements.
Records reveal Van travelled to Queensland at his own expense but billed taxpayers for an eight-night stay in Proserpine. He was off the coast on board the vessel as part of an Australian Defence Force parliamentary program trip.
In a statement Van said: “While there were several reasons for the senator’s travel to Queensland – which included attending committee hearings, a site briefing with the Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority as well as an ADF parliamentary program – it has been conclusively determined that the dominant purpose was parliamentary business.”
After the ship docked on July 21, Van then charged taxpayers $663.50 for a chauffeur-driven Comcar.
Comcars are charged at an average of about $2 per minute on a weekday, indicating that the vehicle was hired for more than five hours. Proserpine is about a 7-hour drive from Cairns. Records do not show where the Comcar trip terminated.
Van stayed in Cairns for four nights before he claimed air fares for himself and his partner back to Brisbane on July 25.
The couple claimed six consecutive nights of accommodation in Brisbane at a total cost of $2526.
However, records show Van also billed taxpayers for an overnight trip to Townsville on July 28. He returned to Brisbane the following day.
Van remotely logged into a committee hearing that was being held in Canberra.
A transcript of the hearing shows Senator Van telling witnesses, “I’ve got limited time, so I don’t need lengthy answers” three hours before the hearing was scheduled to end. He was not present for the afternoon session.
Van claimed travel costs for his partner to travel from Brisbane back to his hometown of Melbourne on July 31. He appeared to travel to Canberra, where he began incurring Comcar expenses on July 31 and attended committee hearings.
South Australian Liberal senator David Fawcett, who was also on the same Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program trip as Van, did not claim any travel expenses for the trip.
Van says he has not been offered procedural fairness since independent senator Lidia Thorpe accused him of sexual harassment earlier this month, leading to former Liberal National senator Amanda Stoker to claim Van also touched her inappropriately.
Van was expelled from the Liberal Party room by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and sent to the crossbench. Van later resigned his membership of the Liberal party. Van has denied all claims and says he will serve out the remainder of his term, which expires in 2025. Dutton and other Liberal MPs have called on Van to quit parliament.
Melbourne went into lockdown on 15 July 2021. Days before Van left Melbourne on July 13, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews closed the border with NSW making interstate travel almost impossible for most people.
At the time, Van was a member of various committees including a joint committee on trade and investment growth. Most parliamentary business was conducted via video link due to pandemic travel restrictions.
A designated family member is entitled to taxpayer-funded travel to accompany a parliamentarian when they are travelling within Australia for parliamentary business.
The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, which oversees parliamentary travel entitlements, also allows MPs and senators to claim an accommodation allowance when they are travelling away from their home city “for the dominant purpose of parliamentary business” which is defined as undertaking parliamentary, electorate, party-political or official duties.
“Parliamentarians must apply the obligations when claiming these allowances, ensuring that any expenses claimed are for the dominant purpose of parliamentary business, that it represents value for money, that the expense is incurred in good faith, and be prepared to publicly defend the expense,” the Authority says.
However, the rules do not say members cannot claim the entitlement if they are staying in accommodation provided by their host.
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