February 24, 2024
MP blames unspecified ‘error’ for late Sri Lanka trip disclosure

Opposition multicultural affairs spokesman Jason Wood says an unspecified “error” is to blame for a late declaration of a trip he took to Sri Lanka and India that was partly funded by the Sri Lankan government. 

The declaration of the July trip was “processed” and published by the registry of MPs’ interests in late December, several months after the required 28-day limit for disclosure. However, the form itself was dated August 7 — which would have been within the time limit. 

According to the official responsible for the registry, registrar Peter Banson, it would be unusual for officials to take months to process a disclosure. 

“Typically, when disclosures are received by the registrar, they’re processed within a matter of days,” Banson told Crikey. He stressed he couldn’t comment on individual disclosures and said he was speaking generally. 

When contacted by Crikey, Wood said he had lodged the disclosure on time, but the information had been “incorrectly recorded”. 

“In accordance with the department’s guidelines and due dates, my office lodged all relevant interests to the department on time on Monday, August 7, 2023,” Wood said in comments supplied by his office.

“My office became aware in December 2023 that the provided details of the trip had been incorrectly recorded on the department’s register.”

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“My office immediately requested that the department investigate this discrepancy to ensure that such errors were rectified and do not occur in future.”

The public registry does not show any updates from Wood between August 25, 2022 and December 20, 2023. 

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Wood’s office did not respond to follow-up questions from Crikey on Friday morning. Both the nature of the error and who exactly was contacted to investigate are unclear.

The Department of the House of Representatives is exempt from freedom of information disclosures, and Wood’s assertion he’d asked for an investigation could not be verified.

The December registry update said Wood had travelled to the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo from July 18 to 22, where hotel accommodation was provided by the Sri Lankan minister for education and training. The update also said business-class Sri Lankan Airlines tickets from Melbourne to Chennai in India were provided by the university REC Campus, and hotel accommodation in Kochi in India was provided by the World Boxing Council.

Wood made several contemporaneous social media posts about the trip, telling Facebook followers he had visited Sri Lankan Parliament and met with the Australian high commissioner to Sri Lanka, among other activities. 

Sean Johnson, founder of the transparency website Open Politics, which first reported on the odd timing of Wood’s disclosure, said that in the past, several other MPs had made late disclosures and “backdated” them to make it appear as if they had been done on time. Crikey is not suggesting that Wood did this.

He told Crikey the registry rules should be reformed so that it would disclose the date updates were received.

“The registry doesn’t say when forms were received by the office, but publishing that would stop MPs from gaming the system,” he said. 

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“MPs occasionally submit things late, but it’s very hard to prove intent.” 

If an MP knowingly submits a disclosure late, they could be guilty of serious contempt of the House of Representatives, a matter that would be dealt with by the House itself, according to the resolution setting out the disclosure rules.