Tony Abbott’s “lifestyle choice” to live hundreds of kilometres from his place of work is costing Australians a small fortune.
During the election caretaker mode the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet arranged a 12-month lease on an inner-south Canberra home for Abbott or Kevin Rudd to live in while the Lodge underwent repairs and renovation.
When Tony Abbott won the election, he chose not to live in the house, telling us he was saving us money by staying at the Australian Federal Police college when in Canberra. That decision cost us $120,000 – $39,107 for rent, $65,000 for a commercial settlement to terminate the lease in November, $1,403 for a property broker to find the home in the first place and later to look for an alternative tenant, and $14,144 in legal advice on the drafting and ending of the lease.
Abbott is the only Prime Minister other than Howard to choose Kirribilli House as his official residence.
The budget for the prime minister’s official residences will increase from $1.61m in 2013-14 to $1.7m this financial year, rising to $1.77m, $1.81m and $1.86m in subsequent years.
When Howard moved into Kirribilli House, two sets of stairs were installed and a bathroom was refitted at a cost of $185,000. In their third year of residence a new dining room table and 20 chairs were ordered, a cost of $82,000. A door required widening to get the table inside.
In January 2014, it was reported that Abbott had spent more than $120,000 overhauling Kirribilli House since winning the election – including $13,000 on a family room rug.
The makeover of the Prime Minister’s official Sydney residence included $64,988 of landscaping advice relating to dilapidated paths and how to prevent tree roots invading garden walls. And yes, this was just for advice.
Another $24,343 was spent on floor coverings, and $19,443 contract for roof repairs.
It is estimated that it would require $10 million to bring the place up to scratch. Meanwhile, renovations at the Lodge are behind schedule and over budget.
Originally planned to take eight months at a cost of $3.19 million, the Abbott government signed off on changes to the contract in December last year, adding another 12 months to the completion date and upping the price tag to $6.38 million.
The cost is 50% more than knocking down the Heritage-listed building and starting again, one quantity surveyor claims.
Aside from the costs of renovating and maintaining these two official residences, the costs of commuting to and from Sydney are significant. The PM’s private jet is stationed in Canberra so, when he wants to go to work, it flies up empty to pick him up. Likewise, when he comes back to Sydney, the jet returns empty to Canberra.
In December 2003, Fairfax revealed
“John Howard’s decision to use Kirribilli House in Sydney as his principal residence has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars since he became Prime Minister in 1996.
This includes the $7500 it costs every time he takes the one-hour flight between Canberra and Sydney.
The RAAF’s No. 34 Squadron operates the VIP fleet of five aircraft, which costs $60 million a year to run. The Prime Minister and his staff are not the only passengers; the flights are used by senior ministers and by the Opposition during election campaigns.
According to the Department of Defence’s Schedule of Special Purpose Flights for the second half of last year, the Prime Minister ordered 43 flights between Sydney and Canberra.
Ten of those flights flew empty between Canberra and Sydney. Each flight cost $7500. “
During his 12 years in office, Howard cost the taxpayers $18.4 million in flights between Canberra and Sydney. One can only assume that these costs have increased significantly since then.
In May 2014, as the budget was about to be announced, it was revealed that four Coalition members used a taxpayer-funded jet to fly from Perth to Canberra, costing more than $140,000. The RAAF VIP jet flew empty to Perth to carry four Government MPs and eight staff back to Canberra. Surely these MPs who have made a lifestyle choice to live so far away from their place of work, could also make the choice to travel on a commercial flight and save us hundreds of thousands.
A few weeks ago, despite it being a Parliamentary sitting week, Abbott fired up the VIP jet, with its RAAF flight attendants and first class service, for a quick trip to Sydney to unveil the government’s foreign investment options paper along with his Treasurer Joe Hockey. After their 20 minute press conference, they flew back to work in Canberra.
And then there are the endless claims for payment for Tony’s choice to take part in sporting and charity events.
When the Prime Minister said the government couldn’t “endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices” I guess he meant other people’s lifestyle choices because we apparently have endless money to support his.