Cory Bernardi charges taxpayers to take family on coastal trips

Cory Bernardi’s travel will add to debate about whether politicians’ family reunion benefits are too generous. Photo: Alex EllinghausenTurnbull government senator Cory Bernardi has repeatedly charged taxpayers to take his family on coastal getaways.

The Liberal firebrand has taken his family on at least three trips to the idyllic South Australian tourist town of Port Lincoln at a combined cost of $5794, his publicly available expense reports show.

The trips appear to be within parliamentary entitlements and there is no suggestion Senator Bernardi has broken any rules. But the travel will add to debate about whether politicians’ family reunion benefits are too generous.

Senator Bernardi’s latest expense report shows he used his benefits to fly three family members from Adelaide to Port Lincoln, arriving June 4 and leaving June 9, at a cost of $1489.

Curiously, Senator Bernardi did not charge taxpayers for any of his own travel or allowances – which he typically does when he is on electorate business – but his spokesperson says he was in Port Lincoln from June 3 to 9.

“You are clearly unaware that Port Lincoln is part of the senator’s constituency and a major regional centre; it is in an integral part of his role to travel the length and breadth of the state,” the spokesperson said.

“On occasions his family will meet him which is in accordance with the provisions of his employment.”

The spokesperson urged Fairfax Media to be “more open-minded and sensitive to the demands of active senators”.

Senator Bernardi has charged taxpayers to take family members to Port Lincoln on at least two other occasions – in February 2014 at a cost of $1899 and in June 2010 at a cost of $2400, including his own expenses.

He has spoken publicly of his love for the town and its fishing opportunities.

“I enjoy nothing more than heading out of Port Lincoln in my little boat and catching things like sharks,” he told the Senate this year during a speech about the town’s fishing industry.

MPs and senators spent a total of $650,000 on family travel benefits in the first half of 2015.

But they could soon be stripped of the right to use the public purse to fly their families anywhere other than Canberra.

The perk is one of those believed to be facing the axe under a review of entitlements sparked by the public furore surrounding Bronwyn Bishop’s expenses this year.

A number of MPs have been criticised for their use of family travel benefits in recent years, most notably Labor’s Tony Burke.

The opposition’s finance spokesman came under fire this year for charging taxpayers $12,000 for a business class family trip to Uluru. He admitted the trip was “beyond community expectations” but he refused to refund the money.

It later emerged frontbencher Christopher Pyne charged $7000 to fly his family business class from Adelaide to Canberra.

The review of entitlements, ordered by former prime minister Tony Abbott after the “choppergate” scandal that led to Mrs Bishop’s downfall as Speaker, is due to conclude next month.

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