Pitt brushes off Nats travel scandal
THE National Party is engulfed in turmoil over revelations the Deputy Prime Minister’s office planned to allow MPs to bill taxpayers for a lavish political centenary.
Hinkler MP Keith Pitt has denied making travel bookings for the March event but was silent on whether the scandal was what tipped Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien to desert the Nationals.
Text messages from Michael McCormack’s top adviser revealed the Deputy Prime Minister’s office planned to allow MPs to bill taxpayers for flights and accommodation for a centenary celebration in Melbourne on March 13.
The fallout is understood to be the catalyst for Mr O’Brien to abandon the party and challenge Victorian MP Damian Drum for the role of deputy speaker this week.
Mr Pitt’s office was questioned if he planned to attend the centenary event.
He was also asked about Mr O’Brien’s decision to leave the party.
A spokesman said he had not made travel bookings for March and all arrangements were made “in line with ministerial travel requirements”, but would not be drawn on questions of Mr O’Brien’s departure.
“Questions about Mr O’Brien are best directed to Mr O’Brien”, the spokesman said.
Wednesday’s revelations are the latest in a series of political fallouts for the embattled party, following the resignation of Bridget McKenzie over the sports grants program.
The Chronicle understands MPs and Senators will pay their own way should they choose to attend the party centenary.
A spokeswoman for Mr McCormack said the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority advised the party travel expenses to the event could be claimed “in broad terms”.
“At the time the Deputy Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff provided the advice to the MP’s office, the intention was to hold a party room meeting but this was subject to IPEA advice and confirmation closer to the time,” the spokeswoman said.