Don Randall: repaying the money for his taxpayer-funded trip to Cairns. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Liberal MP Don Randall said he would immediately repay more than $5000 in expense entitlements claimed for a trip to Cairns, as the Australian Federal Police referred cases of alleged misuse of MPs entitlements back to the Finance Department.
After not answering questions for more than two days about the trip to Cairns with his wife in November last year, the West Australian MP released a statement late on Thursday saying he would reimburse the money, but failed to provide further details on how the trip to the other side of the country was ''electorate business''.
Refused to commit to changes to the parliamentary expenses system: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Mr Randall said he would pay back the $5259 to ''ensure the right thing is done by the taxpayer and alleviate any ambiguity''. Fairfax Media revealed this week that a week after the trip, Mr Randall announced he and his wife had taken possession of an investment property in Cairns.
The repayment appears to reflect an open admission that the original claim was not capable of being defended on the very basis it was made.
His statement came after Labor MP Rob Mitchell earlier on Thursday bought into the scandal asking the AFP to investigate expense claims by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis.
Mr Mitchell said there appeared to be ''a consistent and deliberate abuse of taxpayer funds for personal gain''.
But the AFP announced on Thursday that despite multiple complaints including from the public, it is not currently investigating the alleged misuse, but had forwarded the cases to the Finance Department.
Meanwhile, former Liberal senator Nick Minchin, has told The Australian Financial Review that his system for dealing with expense claims, developed in 1998 and dubbed the Minchin protocol, was not designed to ''let MPs off the hook''.
The protocol allows MPs to pay back money found to have been claimed incorrectly with no further consequence.
While Mr Minchin refused to call for reform of the system, he urged parliamentarians to be ''conservative'' in their entitlement claims.
''The protocols were never intended or designed to be a mechanism to 'let MPs off the hook' and it does provide for departmental officials to refer allegations to the federal police where that is deemed appropriate,'' Mr Minchin reportedly said.
On Thursday, West Australian state Liberal MP Rob Johnson called on Mr Abbott to dump the embattled Mr Randall over the taxpayer-funded trip to Cairns.
Despite promising to pay back the money, Mr Randall continued to claim the trip was bona fide and had decided of his own volition to repay the money rather than defend the claim.
'"I've always acted in good faith when submitting claims and after an extensive review of all my expenses, I'm satisfied that those claims meet the guidelines,'' he said.
Mr Johnson branded Mr Randall ''a coward'' and said he was speaking up on behalf of other ''disgusted members of the WA party''.
''He should resign from Parliament or the Prime Minister should show some leadership and sack him,'' said Mr Johnson, a former state minister and current member of the Barnett government.
He said Mr Randall needed to explain to his constituents exactly what business he was doing on their behalf on trips to Cairns and Melbourne with a family member.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that the pair ''had history''.
Mr Abbott is also facing criticism from his own team, with NSW Nationals senator John Williams also calling on the Prime Minister to tighten the system, saying people who were struggling with the cost of living were annoyed to see stories about politicians' expense claims.
''The Australian people must have faith in a government and all politicians that we're doing the right thing,'' Senator Williams said.
Mr Abbott has so far refused to commit to changes to the parliamentary expenses system, despite multiple cases of MPs making false claims that, if made in a tax return, could lead to prosecution.
Mr Abbott's chief of staff Peta Credlin this week told all Coalition MPs to get approval from the Prime Minister at least four weeks before travelling overseas.
Monday's email said MPs and senators were ''reminded that approval must be sought'' for overseas study travel, sponsored travel and privately funded trips, but not for parliamentary delegations.
It followed Fairfax Media reports on Coalition MPs Barnaby Joyce, Julie Bishop and Teresa Gambaro flying to India on a private jet funded by Gina Rinehart to attend a wedding, then claiming ''overseas study'' entitlements to cover the cost of the return journey.
A spokesman for the Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson dismissed the referral to the AFP as ''a political stunt''.
''I trust Rob Mitchell has also written letters to the Federal Police asking they investigate Tony Burke, Julia Gillard, Anthony Albanese, Mark Dreyfus, Jacinta Collins, Senator Mark Bishop, Senator Don Farrell, Trish Crossin and Kirstin Livermore,'' he said.