Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert has agreed to pay back thousands of dollars in home internet bills that he conceded are “much higher than what our community expects” from a politician.
Mr Robert confirmed he would pay back the money for the bills on Friday evening and blamed unreliable internet in his Gold Coast suburb for forcing him to use 4G.
“I will immediately and voluntarily pay back the total amount to ensure I continue to meet community expectations and standards,” he told The Australian newspaper.
“The problem with 4G is that it provides a modest amount of data usage per month and then has very high excess data charges. These excess data charges are what have caused concern.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked for an explanation after the Queensland MP billed taxpayers 20 times more than the average cost for federal politicians’ homes, averaging more than $1800 during the latest six month reporting period.
Mr Robert charged $2832 in May this year — about $90 per day.
He said he used 300 gigabytes of data in that month, incurring higher costs after exceeding a 50GB data limit.
The amount would allow for about 100 hours of high definition streaming from online video services or about 2600 hours of streamed music.
Mr Robert, who ran an IT services firm before being elected to Parliament, blamed connectivity issues for the bill to taxpayers.
“As ADSL, ISDN and the NBN were all unavailable at the time of installation, a home wireless service was facilitated,” he told Fairfax Media.
“This was the most stable, viable service available prior to NBN being installed.”
A key backer of Mr Morrison in the August leadership challenge which saw Malcolm Turnbull removed, Mr Robert previously billed taxpayers $900 to fly to Sydney in 2014, ahead of a private trip to China to attend the signing of a deal between a resources company and Chinese officials.
He resigned from the Turnbull government ministry two years later when it was revealed he owned shares in a trust linked to a major Liberal donor and the private company, Nimrod Resources.
Labor pounced last month when he confused government debt and deficit levels during a television interview, moments after he was filmed talking a photo of himself on air.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission said in 2017 it would look into allegations that Mr Robert’s father was made a director, without his knowledge, of a private investment company that held shares in his son’s IT service business.
There have been no findings about the company, Robert International Pty Ltd.
During a visit to Tasmania on Friday, the Prime Minister said he had asked Special Minister of State Alex Hawke to review the spending.
“I’ve asked the Special Minister of State to look into this and report back to me,” Mr Morrison said.
Asked if Mr Robert’s spending would pass the pub test with voters, the Prime Minister said a proper explanation was warranted.
“I think they’d want an explanation, and that’s why I’ve asked for one.”
The Special Minister of State has responsibility for the administration of parliamentary work expenses charged by MPs to taxpayers.
Mr Hawke is also closely aligned with Mr Morrison.
Last month, it was revealed the Mitchell MP paid for printing expenses with a company owned by a Liberal Party branch president in Sydney.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said controversy seemed to follow Mr Robert.
“I understand that he was Scott Morrison’s numbers man, helping Scott Morrison get the top job, so I think this is one for the Liberals to talk about and I can’t help wondering if there’s a bit of Liberal infighting with some of these reports emerging,” he said.