Slipper case could cost taxpayers almost $70k
PROSECUTING Sunshine Coast MP Peter Slipper for his alleged misuse of $964 in taxi vouchers could end up costing Australian taxpayers almost $70,000.
The revelation was contained in a written answer by Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Bromwich to a question in Senate estimates about the likely legal costs for the seven-day trial.
"The cost of any hearing is dependent on a number of variables including, in particular, the length of the hearing and the facts put in issue," his answer read.
"Assuming the matter proceeds to a full hearing of seven days ... and assuming the prosecution is put to strict proof at that hearing as to every fact, the defendant gives evidence and detailed closing submissions are made, it is anticipated that the prosecution's external legal and related costs for the preparation and conduct of the hearing would be approximately $69,000."
The prosecution has listed 38 witnesses - 31 civilian and seven Australian Federal Police officers - for the trial to be heard in the ACT Magistrates Court from December 2.
When asked by APN Newsdesk how much had been spent bringing the matter to trial, the CDPP said: "The CDPP has not incurred witness costs at this stage. Staff costs of the one case officer and others who have been involved on a limited basis from time to time have not been costed."
Mr Slipper has pleaded not guilty to three counts of "dishonestly causing a loss" to the Commonwealth. The charges relate to the Member for Fisher's alleged fraudulent use of cab charges on January 20, April 19 and June 27, 2010, to visit wineries around Canberra when he was still a member of the Liberal Party.
Labor Senator Louise Pratt asked Mr Bromwich a series of questions about Mr Slipper's prosecution during Senate estimates in May.
A number of her questions centred on whether there was "value for the taxpayer" in pursuing Mr Slipper over a disputed sum of less than $1000.
"We have not yet reached, and I hope we never reach, the point of making decisions to prosecute on the basis of resources alone, given that two thresholds that have to be passed is sufficiency of evidence and public interest in prosecuting," Mr Bromwich answered.
"Both of those matters were seriously and carefully considered in relation to this matter."
Mr Bromwich went on to say resourcing was "rarely a determinative factor" in deciding to prosecute.
The CDPP told APN Newsdesk: "The amounts involved in the three separate alleged frauds and the costs of prosecuting those three charges were matters taken into account, in addition to all the other circumstances involved, including the information contained in the Australian Federal Police brief of evidence."
During estimates Senator Pratt raised several examples of the Department of Finance allowing MPs to repay any money found to be outside entitlement, including former Howard government minister Peter Reith whose son racked up $50,000 worth of private phone calls. Mr Slipper has, himself, been forced to repay money in the past under the "Minchin protocol".
Most recently it was revealed Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was allowed to pay back more than $9000 in public money wrongly spent on flights to promote his book in 2009.
In fact, the website that broke that story, NoFibs.com.au, last month obtained a series of documents proving Mr Slipper wrote to the Department of Finance late last year indicating he was willing to repay any entitlements he may have wrongly received.
But because the matter had been referred to the AFP by a third party and not the department, there was no chance to employ the Minchin protocol. It is still not known who referred the matter to the AFP.
In a letter to Mr Slipper on December 17 last year department secretary David Tune wrote: "Prior to the AFP investigation, Finance had no concerns with your travel paid under entitlement on those days."
Mr Slipper declined to comment to APN Newsdesk for this story, but in May he questioned whether his treatment had been fair.
"This matter should be looked at in perspective. What we're talking about is whether a sum of $964 expended was within or outside entitlement, and that's a matter which is usually handled administratively between the member and Department of Finance," Mr Slipper told reporters outside the ACT Magistrates Court on May 23.
"I regret that I have not been given the equivalence of treatment given to other members and senators."
WHAT IS THE MINCHIN PROTOCOL?
The Minchin Protocol, approved by the then special minister of state Nick Minchin in June 1998, employs an "arm's length" process to ensure that allegations against politicians are handled in a way which could not invite allegations of partisanship.
Finance does not make details of matters dealt with under the Minchin Protocol publicly available including outcomes.
The protocol is employed to handle complaints of alleged misuse of expenses by federal parliamentarians.