WA Liberal MP Don Randall insists he has done nothing wrong and says he can sleep soundly at night despite the national furore that has erupted over his use of parliamentary travel and publication entitlements.
Mr Randall, the Federal member for Canning, insisted he "absolutely" operated within the rules of the parliamentary entitlements system.
In an extended interview with _The West Australian _ at his Waterford home yesterday, Mr Randall:
· was unapologetic about billing taxpayers $5259 for a trip to Cairns with his wife, where he owns an investment property;
· confirmed he attended a West Coast Eagles AFL game in Melbourne with his wife on September 15, 2012 on another taxpayer-funded trip costing more than $5000;
· claimed MPs on both sides of politics had sympathised with him privately since the scandal broke on the grounds he had "taken the heat" off their similar conduct;
· had the complete backing of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who he said believed he was "totally entitled" to the Cairns trip.
Asked if he understood why sections of the public were offended by his travel claims, Mr Randall said: "It's become quite a media frenzy, obviously. And these sort of things have the ability to capture the imagination of the public rightly or wrongly - particularly if the media decide to make a strong issue of it, and in this case they have.
"It is (media-driven), because it's not being driven by the Labor Party. And I've had calls from Labor Party people to say that.
"They know how the system works and they know the entitlements. And the entitlements I've been operating under for over 14½ years are the same ones they operate under."
Mr Randall said the Cairns visit was appropriate because he had met Warren Entsch, the member for Leichhardt and then the opposition's whip "for a couple of hours".
Mr Randall said the pair discussed "a whole range of issues", including local government amalgamations but he would not say what else they talked about.
Mr Randall admitted visiting his Cairns investment property but denied that was the purpose of the trip. "The investment property wasn't handed over until a number of weeks after (the Cairns visit). It wasn't as if I got the keys or anything. I had a look," he said.
Asked why, if he thought he was entitled to claim the trip, he paid the $5259 back, Mr Randall said it was because he could not get a definitive ruling from the Department of Finance when he sought advice.
"That advice was unclear," he said. "Because of the grave concern of the public as a result of what I consider to be an almost unprecedented media interest, I've erred on the side of paying the money back."
Defending the Melbourne trip, Mr Randall said MPs from WA, far north Queensland and the NT were entitled to "break up" trips to Canberra by flying through a capital city of their choice. His wife flew back to Perth and he continued on to Canberra after the football.
"It is totally within the entitlement. Just to illustrate that, you might want to check the front bar of the Hilton Hotel (in Melbourne) on grand final day to see how many members of all parties are there."
Asked if he believed those MPs were travelling under parliamentary entitlements, Mr Randall said: "I'm sure they are probably making it their business to examine the MCG as part of their parliamentary business. That's tongue in cheek, of course."
Mr Randall denied the Prime Minister's office ordered him to pay back the money for the Cairns trip.
"Of course I've sought advice from the Prime Minister's office because I'm not in the business of trying to cause any undue concern about the way this new Government operates," he said. "But you might also want to reflect on the Opposition, because it's not an issue that's been raised by our opponents. It's an issue that's been trawled over largely by the Fairfax media and then become an issue for the rest of you."
Asked if he acted in the spirit of the law, Mr Randall said: "No matter how we interpret it, there will be those in the public who will just never ever believe you got it right. My interpretation of the spirit of the law will be completely different from somebody who is my opponent or my critic. Whereas my supporters - and many have contacted me - can't believe that this is bigger than the financial meltdown in America and the fires in NSW, particularly given I've paid the money back."
Asked if it passed the "smell test" for the public, Mr Randall said: "Obviously not, for many. And that's one of the reasons I am sensitive to the public views on this. I've prided myself over the years for being honest and doing the right thing and I'm sure somebody will find on some occasion where they don't believe that's the case. But I can sleep well at night because I have always been honest as a politician."
Mr Randall said his purchase of $2500 of books, including Broadway Musicals Show by Show and six copies of John Howard's autobiography Lazarus Rising, was within entitlement, with most books given as gifts to children in the electorate, something he claimed was a widespread practice.
"It was something that was suggested to members of the coalition . . . by those who advise us on these matters - you can speculate on who that is," he said.
"I would have thought that money is better being used giving children in the electorate a book prize rather than on a whole lot of Financial Reviews or Economist magazines or BRWs sitting on my desk that are of very little use to anyone."
Mr Randall said his daughter Tess, who had been employed as an executive assistant in his office, would soon leave that position. She had been employed in the role as a matter of "convenience" after advertising for the position failed to unearth any suitable applicants.
"She is going to work elsewhere shortly," he said.
Asked if that would be for another MP, Mr Randall said: "Could be. I would like to see her in the private sector. I don't want my kids to get involved in politics for the obvious reasons. It's a pretty brutal business and I'd like to see my kids have a happy and less aggressive life in their employment and I don't think politics is the game for them.
"It took me 14½ years to build what I consider to be credibility and respect in the electorate. I suspect that has been severely damaged within a few days and it is up to me to win back the respect of the electorate, not by the words I say, but by the deeds that I do. That is to serve my constituents in the best possible way, get out there and fix their problems.
"If you look at the results of the last Federal election going from 2.2 per cent (margin) to 11.8 per cent is not a bad endorsement of the fact I do a pretty good job."