|Aussie PM Abbott defends self after being caught out with snout in the trough
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (pictured) was embroiled in a travel expenses scandal as he defended his use of taxpayer money to take part in an iron man competition and other events.
Meanwhile, he is also in the running for the annual sexism awards.
“Vicious'' commentary about Australia's first female leader Julia Gillard dominates entries for the annual "Ernie'' awards for sexism with Abbott the “most constant'' offender, organizers said.
The expenses issue has blown up for Abbott, who was elected to office last month vowing to lead a government that would “live within its means,’’ while in Indonesia for the APEC summit.
Last week he voluntarily repaid about A$1,700 (US$1,600) in travel expenses claimed for attending the weddings of two former colleagues in 2006.
He did so following uproar after two senior members of his coalition were heavily criticized after being exposed for billing taxpayers thousands of dollars to go to the wedding of a radio host.
One of the weddings Abbott claimed for involved former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper, who he vigorously pursued last year over his alleged misuse of taxi vouchers to visit Canberra wineries, sparking accusations the prime minister was hypocritical.
Today, Australian media also revealed Abbott, who has a macho reputation, charged taxpayers almost A$1,300 in travel and accommodation costs to compete in a 2011 iron man event, in which you run, ride a bike and swim.
He also routinely claimed a travel allowance and flights to take part in the annual 1,000 kilometer Pollie Pedal charity cycling trip through regional Australia that lasts several days, it was reported.
Abbott insisted it was “perfectly legitimate'' for the public to pay for travel expenses for his participation in charity and community sports events.
“I believe that all of my claims have been within entitlement,'' he said on the APEC sidelines in Bali, adding that “the great thing about Pollie Pedal is it takes me to towns, communities, sometimes hamlets that rarely see a politician.’’
But with the anger growing, he admitted: “People should be careful and cautious when they claim entitlement. If there is any doubt they should resolve the doubt in favor of the taxpayer.''
In an editorial, the Sydney Morning Herald said Abbott's government needed to lead by example having come to office promising no excuses, “but now they are coming thick and fast.’’
“When there is doubt, surely taxpayer interest beats the personal one,'' it said.