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Nationals Leader defends his consultancy work in Middle East.

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Wednesday 5 March 2008

Nationals Leader defends his consultancy work in Middle East


MARK COLVIN: The former National Party leader, Mark Vaile, might be regretting his decision to moonlight in Bahrain.  


There's been condemnation from all directions of Mark Vaile's choice to spend the week working as a consultant for a Sydney company in the Middle East.  


Even the Opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, hasn't been able to bring himself to support Mr Vaile's actions. He says he should be home representing his electorate. 


The Government says it's becoming a pattern of behaviour among former Howard government ministers, and now one Liberal frontbencher has urged his colleagues to reveal their future intentions so the party can move on.  


But speaking to PM from the Middle East, Mr Vaile has defended the decision. 


From Canberra, Samantha Hawley reports.  


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Mark Vaile's the member for Lyne.  


His electorate takes in Taree, where Paul works in a local business.  


PAUL: I've talked to people around town here, and they're word is at the time, "What's Mark Vaile doing for Taree?" 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: News that Mark Vaile's moonlighting in the Middle East isn't going down well among some of his local constituents.  


PAUL: He should be here working for the Australian Government, and for his electorate. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Steve owns a small business in Taree. 


STEVE: I don't know what he ever did when he was member here, when I saw him open things, but he was sort of always flying in and out, and had more important things to worry about than Taree anyway. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The Opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, says if he'd known where Mark Vaile was heading he would have urged him not to go.  


BRENDAN NELSON: I think he needs to be in Australia and be available to his constituents. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Labor's Tony Burke says Mr Vaile and other former ministers like Alexander Downer have clearly had enough of their political careers. 


TONY BURKE: There's a collection of them, who don't appear to really want to be members of Parliament anymore. Mark Vaile is the same person who skipped Parliament to play golf with Alexander Downer, in the same week that Alexander Downer skipped Parliament to go out to lunch during Question Time. 


There's a pattern of behaviour of a series of people in the Coalition, who want to be paid for being members of Parliament, but don't seem all that interested in the work anymore. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Now, former government minister and the Opposition's leader in the Senate, Nick Minchin, has urged his colleagues to reveal their intentions.  


NICK MINCHIN: Those former long-serving ministers, who might be thinking of departing, make a decision whether they are staying or going, and if they are going, indicate the time of their departure so that everybody can plan, our parties can start planning for those by-elections. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Speaking from Bahrain in the Middle East, Mark Vaile has defended his working trip.  


MARK VAILE: I've taken personal leave for four days, four working days this week, and I'm entitled to do that, and I'm just over here with a very, very strong Australian company who is looking at expanding their services in the region. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And why did you feel it was necessary, you're trying to supplement your backbencher income? 


MARK VAILE: No, this is not about, this is not necessarily about income, it's not about remuneration. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Okay, but you are getting paid for the work? 




SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But you are getting paid for the work? 


MARK VAILE: Oh, I haven't been paid anything yet, I mean the company has covered the cost of travel and accommodation, and that will be all declared as it should be. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But even the Opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, can't see it to support your actions. He says that you should be home in you electorate, and people in your electorate say you should be home in your electorate. 


MARK VAILE: Well, you know, first point is that everybody in the workforce in Australia has a reasonable expectation to some leave, and what they do with that leave is up to them. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But is it appropriate for a politician…? 


MARK VAILE: The Labor Party is trying to enshrine in legislation, but certainly I will be away from the electorate for four days in total, I'll be there on Friday and I'll be working over the weekend. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But is it appropriate for you as a politician, who was elected again back in November, to - even if it is leave - to head overseas and earn money as a lobbyist? 


MARK VAILE: Well, it's not something that is an unusual circumstance, I'm not doing anything as a lobbyist. I'm providing advice to a great Australian company that is a big export earner. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: It's not a good look though, is it, given that during the last parliamentary period, we had Alexander Downer lunching during Question Time. The Government says you were out playing golf with Alexander Downer during Parliament time, and now you've headed overseas? 


MARK VAILE: Look, I think that you know, most people will keep it in perspective. Yes, we were a little bit later getting into the Parliament one morning, we were there within I think half an hour of the Parliament starting, but you know, just in my defence and in our defence, our track record in terms of our contribution and commitment to Australia stands for everybody to see. 


MARK COLVIN: Mark Vaile talking to Samantha Hawley.