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Outgoing state Liberal MP Ryan Smith spent big on taxpayer-funded advertising in the weeks leading up to his announcement that he was quitting politics, an analysis of parliamentary expenses has found.
Eighteen state MPs billed taxpayers more than $15,000 in advertising, printing and communication expenses during the first quarter of this year. The soon-to-be former member for Warrandyte, who announced in May he was quitting politics, topped the list by spending almost $34,800 from January to the end of March.
The soon-to-be former MP for Warrandyte, Ryan Smith.Credit: ABC
The latest parliamentary expenditure reports reveal that between January and March, the former Napthine government minister charged taxpayers an average of $386 per day for “communications”.
Communications can include printed and electronic materials, as well as advertisements in newspapers or on social media. Promotional items such as calendars or fridge magnets are also covered, as long as they relate to electorate or parliamentary matters.
Upper house Nationals MP Melina Bath had the second-largest advertising and communications bill last quarter, at just over $34,500. Labor’s representative for Box Hill, Paul Hamer, came in third place with $24,612 in spending.
According to parliamentary guidelines, every MP is provided with funding to communicate with their electorate “in relation to the performance of their public duties”. One Liberal MP, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said parliamentarians essentially used the communications budget to “promote” themselves.
Smith told colleagues shortly after he announced his resignation that he had found work in the private sector, according to two frontbench Liberal MPs speaking on the condition of anonymity. In May, he cited the “growing negative tone of politics” as playing a key role in his decision to quit.
The Liberal MP had signalled his intention to run for the party’s leadership after the November election defeat, but eventually pulled out of the race to support Berwick MP Brad Battin. John Pesutto beat Battin by one vote and succeeded Matthew Guy.
Smith was not present at question time last week – the final sitting week before the midwinter break – and is currently holidaying in Bali. He declined to comment when contacted by The Age, as did Pesutto’s office.
While MPs’ taxpayer-funded advertising spending varies from quarter to quarter, Smith’s spending from January to March dwarfed the $22.83 his Liberal colleague Bev McArthur charged taxpayers during the same period. Meanwhile, the first-term Labor MP for Preston, Nathan Lambert, charged taxpayers $161.67.
Six of the 10 top-spending MPs are from Labor. An Andrews government spokeswoman said it was important for MPs to make their communities aware of programs such as the $250 power-saving bonus and free kindergarten.
The Age does not suggest that Smith or any other MP breached spending rules.
Smith was formally declared the winner in Warrandyte on December 9, and posted to Facebook: “Thank you to the residents of this wonderful electorate for putting your trust in me again. I look forward to representing you over the next four years.”
Five months later, Smith shocked colleagues when he announced his resignation from parliament, triggering a byelection that will be held before the end of September.
The byelection is being framed as a high-stakes contest for Pesutto. Three frontbench Liberal MPs have told The Age the opposition leader will face an immediate spill motion should the seat fall to Labor.
Labor has not yet announced whether it will run and a date has not been set.
Smith retained the seat, which includes the suburbs of Warrandyte, Doncaster East and Chirnside Park, with a 4.2 per cent margin at the November election.
Since then, Resolve Strategic polling has found the Victorian Liberal Party’s primary vote has fallen to just 23 per cent statewide.
The Liberals have preselected former youth pastor and former Box Hill candidate Nicole Ta-Ei Werner. The high cost of living will feature predominantly in her campaign.
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