Michael Sukkar Claimed His Flights While He Was Campaigning Against Same-Sex Marriage
"Minister Sukkar’s travel was clearly within parliamentary travel guidelines,” his office has said.
Assistant minister to the treasurer Michael Sukkar charged taxpayers close to $1,500 for a day trip to Sydney from his Melbourne electorate on the same day he spoke at an anti–marriage equality rally in Western Sydney.
His office claimed that the purpose of the trip, on a Sunday, was to attend a meeting with religious leaders to discuss charity issues well within his portfolio.
The event, held during the three-month postal survey, at Fairfield showground, was pegged as a "family fair" which included rides, hot food, and lots of speeches about the dangers of marriage equality, and was organised by the Eastern Churches of Australia and the Coalition for Marriage.
The location was in the heart of the group of Labor electorates in Western Sydney that returned a majority "no" vote in the postal survey on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Coalition for Marriage estimated the crowd at close to 10,000, but BuzzFeed News attended the event and estimated it to be no more than two or three thousand people.
MP for the Melbourne seat of Deakin, Sukkar was one of a range of speakers on the day, including Coalition for Marriage spokesperson Sophie York, the mother featured in the advert concerned about boys wearing dresses, Dr Pansy Lai, and other religious figures opposed to the change in the law.
According to the latest round of expenses published this week by the new Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority for the period of October to December last year, Sukkar claimed flights from Melbourne to Sydney on the day of the rally totalling close to $1,000, and official Commonwealth car use in Sydney and Melbourne on Sunday, 8 October, of close to $500.
MPs can only claim travel and Comcar costs for official, electorate, or parliamentary business, and ministers can claim costs if they are attending meetings or events in their portfolio.
A spokesperson for Sukkar told BuzzFeed News that he had been meeting with religious leaders to discuss charity issues – something within his portfolio.
“Minister Sukkar was invited to attend a meeting of senior faith leaders on the 8th October 2017 in relation to a range of issues impacting religious charitable organisations, and he happily addressed an event organised by the Australian Eastern Churches after this meeting," the spokesperson said.
"Minister Sukkar’s travel was clearly within parliamentary travel guidelines.”
BuzzFeed News asked Sukkar's office if those religious leaders were in attendance at the Fairfield fair, and if the meeting was held at the same location, but his office refused to provide any more information.
At the event, Sukkar said he was first and foremost a Maronite Catholic before his role as a minister or as a Liberal or as the MP for Deakin.
In the speech, Sukkar also claimed that same-sex marriage was attacking the country, the flag, faith, and family. He said that the "you can say no" slogan should have been "it's your duty to say no".
Sukkar is not the only MP to claim travel around the postal survey period. Opposition leader Bill Shorten flew to Sydney from Melbourne and back in mid-September to attend and speak at a "yes" rally.
Shorten, however, as the office holder for his party, is able to claim travel expenses far beyond that of a minister or backbencher.
The overhaul of parliamentary entitlements last year came about following then–health minister Sussan Ley resigning at the start of last year over flights to the Gold Coast, where she purchased an apartment while on government business.