Sneaky or not, some expenses still reek

We can only imagine the bride-to-be, Mallika Reddy, running the rule over the guest list for her big fat Indian wedding. As she scans the 10,000 names invited to the three-day extravaganza – the Bollywood superstars, the captains of industry, the international fashion designers – she arrives at three she does not recognise.

"Grandfather!" she protests. "Who in God's name are Barnaby Joyce, Julie Bishop and Teresa Gambaro?"

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Her grandfather, the billionaire industrialist G. V. Krishna Reddy, replies: "They are politicians from Australia, a quarry to our south which I have my eyes on. But, dear one, but do not concern yourself with such matters of state."

"Well," Mallika huffs, "we are not bumping Shahrukh Khan to make room for these impostors."

Shahrukh Khan is India's answer to Brad Pitt. He will not be bumped. Nor will Bishop, Gambaro or Joyce. Another wedding guest, Gina Rinehart, will deliver the Australian trio of opposition pollies to Hyderabad on her private jet in June 2011.

Of course, we have no idea what the Reddys may or may not have said, but the rest of this is fair dinkum.


"I must admit," Joyce would report, "it was absolutely mind-blowing." He explained why he accepted Rinehart's invitation: it was important to build trade links with India. The trade, in this case, involved G. V. Krishna Reddy's plan to take a controlling stake, worth more than $1 billion, in Rinehart's coal assets at Hancock Prospecting.

It's just as well there was some whoopee-rupee in it. More than two years later, it has emerged that the Australian taxpayer had a small stake in our pollies' jaunt. Rinehart's jet didn't deliver them home so Joyce, Bishop and Gambaro, between them, claimed more than $12,000 in overseas study allowances to cover their return flights.

Julie Bishop.
Julie Bishop. 

Joyce and his wife took a private flight to Kuala Lumpur, but he claimed $5500 for their final leg. His one-day stopover in Malaysia was time enough to justify this expense with a study tour. Taxpayers will be grateful for his insights regarding this exotic backwater. “Proximate to Kuala Lumpur and running to Singapore," he revealed in his report, "are substantial freeways that would look quite in place in an Australian major capital city." His conclusion was proximate to the poetry of the existentialists: “water is wealth, housing is health and roads bring the progression of social services”.

It was at another wedding in 2011 – that of former 2UE ranter Michael Smith – where Joyce recited a poem called Fair Dinkum Love. Only last week, after a story in this paper, Joyce – now the Agriculture Minister – paid back about $650 for the cost of the Comcar that delivered him to those nuptials. He hadn't been "sneaky", he insisted. He just wasn't thinking. Another wedding guest was George Brandis, now the federal Attorney-General and Arts Minister. He gave a speech and was, the groom said at the time, "tearing up the dance floor".

Teresa Gambaro.
Teresa Gambaro. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Selflessly, apparently. Brandis thought this was "primarily a professional rather than a social engagement". He had been there to "foster collaboration" in his pursuit of scandals involving Julia Gillard and the former Labor MP Craig Thomson. Brandis remains steadfastly of that view, even after paying back $1683.06 that he claimed in costs associated with attending the wedding.

So while Joyce hadn't been thinking, Brandis had. He is a deep thinker. Just take a glimpse at the $13,000 library Brandis has amassed at taxpayers' expense over a few years: John Howard's Lazarus Rising, Tony Abbott's Battlelines, biographies of Roosevelt, JFK and Obama; books on the popes, Byzantinism ...

Barnaby Joyce.
Barnaby Joyce. Photo: Getty Images

Brandis makes no apology for being a better reader than your average MP, and nor should he. It's all within his yearly entitlement of $4948 for books and periodicals.

But the problem for politicians is, even if they're not being sneaky, it can look sneaky. Barnaby Joyce wrote eloquently about dodginess earlier this year. "Dodgy believes that people are fools and statements and facts will never be cross-checked." Barnaby, consider yourself cross-checked.