#choppergate ‘investigation’ Fact Check by @margokingston1

Bronwyn Bishop #ChopperGate meme. Source: Twitter

Bronwyn Bishop #ChopperGate meme. Source: Twitter

The AFP and the Department of Finance are playing pass-the-parcel on investigating the legality of Bronwyn Bishop’s helicopter trip to Geelong for a Liberal Party fundraiser. It’s a complicated game of obfuscation that counts on confusing voters. So here are the facts.

1. Applicability of the Minchin Protocol to the AFP

When Labor and several members of the public referred the matter to the AFP for investigation it said no, because the Minchin Protocol demanded that Finance had carriage of such matters. Under pressure, the AFP altered its line to insist that it had “not refused to investigate”, had “sent these complaints to Finance for assessment” and “awaits advice from the Department of Finance in accordance with the protocol as to whether any breaches have occured before taking any further action”.

Both AFP statements are false.The Minchin Protocol is an internal, unlegislated administrative arrangement between Finance and MPs which provides that when suspicions arise, Finance gives the MP concerned the opportunity to admit a mistake and repay the money without further action. It also lays out a complicated, multi-layered process for Finance to refer a claim to the AFP. The Minchin Protocol has no effect at all on the AFP’s power to investigate complaints of deliberately false declarations by MPs on the validity of their expense claims, as is the case with #choppergate.


2. Applicability of the Minchin Protocol to Finance

When James Ashby referred an allegation of cab-charge fraud by Peter Slipper to the AFP in April 2012, the AFP investigated it without referral to Finance, then, when it found the complaint baseless, investigated another alleged cab-charge fraud in 2010 off its own bat,  which led to prosecution for less than $1000.

Slipper tried to repay the money several times under the Minchin Protocol but Finance advised that the Minchin Protocol did not apply when an allegation had been referred direct to the AFP.

So why has Finance accepted the AFP referral of #choppergate? We don’t know because it is refusing to answer any media questions.

3.  The power of Finance to investigate and assess a breach

Finance has NO POWER to investigate an alleged breach or to determine whether a breach has occurred!

Politicians’ travel arrangements are self-regulated. MPs certify that their claims are within entitlement and Finance pays the bills. If an allegation of entitlement breach is made, usually by the media, Finance makes an inquiry to the MP concerned, who does not even have to answer it. In cases which need investigation to decide whether there is criminality, as in #choppergate (invitation documentation, content of speech etc) Finance has no power to do so! The Australian National Audit Office in its report to Speaker Bishop in June 2015, states that “Finance has no power to determine if entitlements have been misused in a given circumstance” and referred to its “lack of investigatory power and resulting inability to weigh conflicting material”.

The AFP reference back to Finance for “assessment” and advice on “whether any breaches had occurred” is, quite simply, a sham, as only the AFP has the power to  investigate #choppergate!

4.  Finance Dept head Jane Halton

Jane Halton,  Secretary, Department of Finance

Jane Halton,
Secretary, Department of Finance

Jane Halton dismissed #choppergate as a sexist non-event before the AFP handballed the investigation back to her department. This pre-judgement disqualifies Finance from handling the public complaints to the AFP.

So what is going on? A devious dance between the AFP and Finance to avoid investigating an allegation of malfeasance voters want investigated. The question: will voters let them get away with it?

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  1. Halton’s argument of sexism is 1. a diversion and 2. shows her (mis)use of the sexism argument as shown by the investigation of Peter Slipper – note to ms Halton: Peter Slipper is a male. Halton does the sexism debate no favours with her comments and brings into question her credibility and ability to investigate the Bishop matter.

    One might question whether there is a conflict of interest also in having Ms Halton and her department investigate the Speaker when Ms Halton has fronted the Parliament’s public works committee seeking a move to Number 1 Canberra Avenue.
    As reported in the Canberra Times (may 15 green light for finance’s swanky new building)
    “Finance is keen to keep key aspects of the deal shrouded in secrecy, insisting on confidential submissions to the committee, closing hearings off to the public and media and refusing to make public its cost-benefit analysis on the deal.” (shades of children overboard?) At the time a spokesperson said: Despite the recommendation of the Public Works Committee, a Departmental spokeswoman said Canberra Avenue was not yet a done deal and that approval of the Parliament was still needed.

    Has this been completed??

  2. One asks: how politicised has the AFP become?
    1. Not overly interested in pursuing the Speaker on this travel claim – even when requested by ALP (and LNP members say it doesn’t really pass the ‘sniff’ test);
    2. didn’t seem to want to pursue the Speaker for apparent fraud over the misuse of the Speaker’s offices for party political purposes (what was the eventual outcome there?)
    3. not interested in seeing if the Prime Minister held British citizenship when undertaking political office – bit of a petition online going at present (why hasn’t the ALP pursued this – are ALP members complicit?)
    4 ?
    5 ?

  3. Greg Poropat says

    The Australian Constitution (s. 44(ii) provides that a person convicted of a State or Federal crime with a possible sentence of 1 year or more is ineligible to be a member of parliament. Regardless of whether fraud has been committed (which can be a difficult crime to prove), under the Commonwealth Crimes Act the making of a materially false declaration carries a possible sentence of 12 months. It’s not just Slipper and Bishop that this matter concerns – there are several other current members (and one recently deceased member) who may well have have made false declarations about their travel expenses but have not been prosecuted let alone investigated by the AFP. This failure to prosecute effectively subverts the operation of our Constitution and its attempt to ensure that only people of a certain background are enabled to act as our representatives.

    As something else to note, it would seem that the AFP’s referral of the complaint to the Department of Finance may breach its Case Categorisation and Prioritisation Model. It would be most interesting to see how the AFP assessed the referral of the Bishop matter in the context of the CCPM (and how it assessed the referrals by Labor MP Rob Mitchell in 2013 concerning Tony Abbott and George Brandis). The AFP website states that investigation of fraud against the Commonwealth is part of its remit. If one rings the AFP as I have, the AFP will advise to report a politician’s alleged abuse of travel entitlements to the AFP. So why are these matters flick-passed to the Finance Department?

    Another matter regarding the Minchin Protocol is that the findings of the Department of Finance investigation are not made public. So kiss goodbye to any chance of having the system disclose the full truth.

  4. Bishops original crime pales into the relatively insignificant petty theft that it is compared to the AFP’s inconsistent and amateurish approach to this. That’s being generous and the same incompetence goes for the finance department. Truth be told it smacks of corruption. That one party controls the AFP (and the finance department) in a supposed democracy, is truly troubling. I hope the replacement government fixes this unacceptable situation in two “independant” bodies.

  5. I fail to see the difference between the Slipper matter and Ms Bishop except that Slipper was crucial to the functioning of the Gillard Government and Bishop is not to the Abbott Government. The return of Parliament will be interesting and I’m of the opinion that Bishop’s position is untenable. It is alarming to think that the AFP has become politicised, to the point of doing the LNPs bidding..

  6. captain51 says

    At the very least, the relationship between the Bishop staffer and the person who provided the chopper transport needs investigation

  7. I used to have great respect for the AFP, however, that respect is fast toning into contempt, especially father you see statements like these: http://twitter.com/margokingston1/status/623812552909193216/photo/1

    “In the case of Mr Slipper, the AFP received both a referral containing specific allegations and associated evidence relating to allegations of fraud.”
    1. Are the AFP saying that the letter by Pat Conroy MP is not a referral, containing specific allegations?
    2. Have they not listened and watched as Ms Bishop admitted to not checking before signing off on her expenses?
    3. Since when is it the job of the public to investigate and provide the evidence?
    Perhaps the AFP has some information that I’m not aware of, but to me there is no difference in this situation as opposed to Peter Slipper!
    As for the last sentence, stating that “we have not refused to investigate any complaints on this occasion”, I can only say that I’m gobsmacked!
    Since when does the Department of Finance have priority to assess anything, over an AFP investigation? And, if this is so, why did the AFP not do the same thing in Peter Slipper’s case?
    As for the “Minchin Protocol”, when the AFP States “This is the agreed protocol for dealing with matters of this nature.”, who agreed to this?
    In fact, I’m certain that no such “Protocol” or “Agreement” is mentioned in the Australian Federal Police Act 1979!
    So, dear AFP, get off your respective lazy rear’s and start doing your job without fear or favour for a change.

  8. TechinBris says

    I wonder if there is a confidential part of the Minchin Protocol that excludes Coalition MP’s from any investigation. It is that, or our AFP is corrupted.
    Either way, Royal Commision into Federal Parliamentary Corruption anyone? Broad terms of reference please and if not, what have our Politicians got to hide from everyone.

  9. In April 2014 my husband, Gratton Wilson, wrote to the Commissioner AFP and made a formal request of an investigation of the Australian Government willfully breaking Australian law by holding the children of Asylum seekers in detention. He pointed out that Article 37 of the UN Convention On The Rights of The Child ( to which Australia is a signatory) states “no child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily” “The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period of time” He also pointed out that Australia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states “that everyone has the right to liberty and security of person” He formally requested that the Commissioner exercise his capability and responsibility of his Department to uphold Australian Law. My husband died in June 2014. After no reply by 4th August 2014, I wrote to the Commissioner pointing out that there had not been any response to my husbands formal request. In October 2014 (after 6 months) the Commissioner wrote to me saying that “The AFP considers there is no specific evidence that would substantuate an allegation that a criminal offense has been committed” also “The Migration Act 1958(Cth) provides the legislative basis for the detention of non-citizens.” He told me to refer my concerns to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection as that was the appropriate agency.
    I point out that shortly before the Commissioner’s belated reply, the Australian Government had been responsible for boarding an asylum seeker vessel outside Australian borders and holding the passengers imprisoned at sea for several weeks.
    Some might believe that the AFP has not been politicised but I do not.