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Politicians should use their judgment and err on the side of not making expense claims, Coalition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull has warned following two more wedding-related travel controversies.
On Sunday, Fairfax Media revealed three Coalition MPs had claimed more than $12,000 in travel expenses while returning from a lavish wedding in India where they were guests of billionaire Gina Rinehart.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott chose to repay more than $1000 he had claimed to attend Sophie Mirabella's wedding in 2006 after receiving advice that he might not be entitled to claim it.
In the past week, Attorney-General George Brandis and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce have also reimbursed taxpayers after Fairfax Media revealed they had claimed expenses related to the wedding of their friend, shock jock Michael Smith, in 2011.
Speaking on the ABC's Insiders program on Sunday, Mr Turnbull said the rules had been "a little bit ambiguous at the time" and it was not uncommon for people to reimburse money.
"I think, by and large, given there is a degree of ambiguity in these rules and a degree of judgment is called for, the better course of action is to err on a more conservative side and if there is any doubt, then don't make a claim," Mr Turnbull said.
Mr Abbott's office confirmed the Prime Minister had repaid the $1094.64 cost of travelling to Sophie Mirabella's 2006 wedding in Wangaratta.
A spokeswoman confirmed the repayment occurred "in the last few days" - only after News Corp Australia's inquiries about the case. Ms Mirabella, a Liberal MP since 2001, was defeated in last month's election.
A spokeswoman said Mr Abbott "immediately sought advice" from the Finance Department "when the matter was brought to his attention".
Acting Labor leader Chris Bowen said, like Senator Brandis, Mr Abbott had only paid back the money after being exposed by the media.
"This simply isn’t good enough," he said on Sunday.
"I call on Mr Abbott and Mr Brandis, instead of saying that these claims were legitimate and they're merely paying them back in order to avoid any doubt, to actually admit they got it wrong; to admit that this is an illegitimate claim, this is a breach of the guidelines."
Mr Bowen called on the likely incoming Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, who also attended Ms Mirabella's wedding, to reveal whether she claimed travel expenses. Ms Bishop's spokesman said the MP travelled to Albury the day before on parliamentary-related business connected with her then role as a committee chair. Ms Bishop stayed an extra two nights at her own expense, did not claim travel allowance and did not use taxpayer-funded cars, the spokesman said.
Mr Bowen said the Australian people were "entitled to expect their politicians to be honest about when mistakes happen and give them an honest explanation".
"This goes to judgment of senior Liberals - claiming travel expenses for what are very clearly not legitimate travel expenses.
"We all accept that mistakes can happen, but this goes to a pattern of poor judgment and a pattern of a lack of transparency and disclosure."
Mr Turnbull said the rules were not always clear but he believed his colleagues were "scrupulous about the way they use taxpayers' money".
The senior minister said while he would not give his view on every expense claim, he defended Julie Bishop's 2011 travel as "very valid" because she was engaging with business and Asia.
He suggested the then shadow foreign minister was working "to raise the level of engagement with India".
Ms Bishop, who claimed a $3445 flight home to Perth from Hyderabad, said in her "study tour" report that the primary purpose of her trip was to meet Indian energy and infrastructure companies that have Australian interests.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard's office has previously defended her use of a VIP jet to attend the wedding of her press secretary in Byron Bay in March this year. Ms Gillard's office said she also had other commitments in the area.
Last month, documents released to The Australian under freedom of information laws showed Ms Gillard repaid $4243 in 2007 when she was deputy opposition leader relating to partner Tim Mathieson's private use of a taxpayer-funded car.
And in 2010, Mr Abbott repaid nearly $9400 in travel expenses incurred while promoting his book, Battlelines, the previous year.
Mr Abbott's chief of staff wrote in October 2010 that the flights "were inadvertently booked as official travel, rather than private".