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Prime Minister stands by Trish Draper over her overseas study trip.

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Monday 24 May 2004

Prime Minister stands by Trish Draper over her overseas study trip


MARK COLVIN: The Government is still standing by the embattled Liberal backbencher Tr ish Draper, with the Prime Minister telling Parliament today that he hasn't met anybody who's worked harder for their electorate than the Member for Makin. 


That's Mrs Draper, who says she'll now repay the cost of the trip, and she broke her silence today. She said she'd done nothing wrong in taking her then boyfriend on an international study trip, because she got permission and he was her 'partner' at the time. 


But no one in Canberra is expecting much fervour on this topic from the major parties, as Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath reports. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: She'd been silent since the story broke and today Trish Draper began her public defence.  


First on radio. 


TRISH DRAPER: Well, what I will be doing is offering to pay that back because what I don't want my constituents to think is that I've done something peculiar or something wrong or untoward. 


RADIO HOST: So you don't accept you've done anything wrong? 


TRISH DRAPER: I actually took the trip under the entitlements. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Trish Draper speaking to Matt Abraham and David Bevin on ABC radio in Adelaide.  


And she tried to explain the rules to John Laws. 


TRISH DRAPER: They have to be reasonably known as your partner. You just can't sort of take anybody you'd like. 


JOHN LAWS: Well, you did. 


TRISH DRAPER: Well, John, I guess you can say that from your point of view, but that wasn't my point of view at the time. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And in Parliament, she again said she'd done nothing wrong. 


TRISH DRAPER: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I refer to newspaper reports and television promotions regarding my overseas study travel that I undertook in the year 2000. It has been claimed that it did not fall within the rules pertaining to MPs' travel entitlements. Such claims are false and defamatory. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Government backs her stance. This is what the Prime Minister had to say in Question Time. 


JOHN HOWARD: I haven't met anybody who's worked harder for her electorate than does the current member for Makin, Mr Speaker. 


("here here" from the House) 


Can I just say this to the leader of the Opposition. Perhaps he might encourage any members of his party whose circumstances were analogous to those of the member for Makin to do what she's done and offer to repay the money. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And this is the exact point that puts Labor in a difficult position. In fact, neither of the major parties really wants to touch this issue. 


The Government is doing it reluctantly, and Labor is reacting reluctantly because they all know that when ever stories about politician' perks and alleged rorting take hold, the image of all politicians is affected. 


It's not that Labor is being silent about this; they're not. But the subject has come up from the media and the public reaction to it, and not through Labor Party pressure. Labor wants an independent auditor to examine political perks. 


Shadow Frontbencher Wayne Swan. 


WAYNE SWAN: We have always said that we should not have politicians policing the rules. It should be an independent auditor. That's been Labor's position for some time, and we hope that the Prime Minister takes on board Labor's policy as it has done in the past. 


REPORTER: Are you worried that there could be a few stories on your side that might emerge? 


WAYNE SWAN: Look, let the cards fall where they may. But Labor firmly believes that we need an independent auditor. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: But the ones who are really pushing this with gusto are the Greens, the Democrats, and Independent Peter Andren. 


PETER ANDREN: Well, I think it's gone on for so long and the entitlements have grown like topsy that both the major parties are heavily compromised by this system and there's no political mileage in it for either of them. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Do you support the Government's decision, though, to tighten up the regulations? 


PETER ANDEN: Look, what does tighten up mean? I think the only thing that would satisfy most people I talk with in the electorate is to wind up any access to taxpayer funded trips by anyone bar perhaps the Prime Minister's wife and on important visits and perhaps under certain circumstances some other ministers or the Opposition leader. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The review is underway, and the Government says it will release the results when its completed, and it's sure to be the subject of discussions in tomorrow's joint party room meeting. 


Peter Andren says that taxpayers need better value for money. 


PETER ANDEN: Well, let's publish the reasons for the trips before they occur on the net and indeed in the public notices of major national newspapers so the constituents can ask some questions, indeed they may have some input if it's a study into some factor that's vital to that electorate.  


But why should it be then, unlike anyone else in the business world who needs to make a business trip and leave the family behind on most occasions, or pays for the partner if they take them, why should the taxpayer pick up the tab for… the contribution, really is nothing more than a publicly paid nanny, by a partner. 


MARK COLVIN: Independent MP Peter Andren ending Catherine McGrath's report.