A South Australian Labor backbencher who spent almost $12,500 on a taxpayer-funded trip to Greece with her husband to attend ANZAC ceremonies earlier this year, has defended her actions, telling Neos Kosmos that implied criticisms of her made in the national press recently were unfair.
Last week, The Australian newspaper ran a critical story on the MP, Ms Leesa Vlahos, who in May spent more than three weeks touring Greece with her husband, George (who is of Greek descent), to represent the SA government at events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Greece and Battle of Crete.
Airfares for Ms Vlahos and her husband George totalling $4,227 were paid, and the MP also received per diem payments adding up to $8,240 for the 23 day trip.
Ms Vlahos, who has recently been promoted to Parliamentary Secretary to the SA Premier, says the payments were in line with standard SA parliamentary entitlements for overseas travel.
The SA government is currently conducting a review into MP travel expenses after public pressure resulting from an alleged travel rort by Education Minister Grace Portolesi.
Ms Portolesi flew her seven-year-old daughter business class to India in April 2011 on a work trip, at a cost of $7000 to the tax-payer. The incident forced SA Premier Jay Weatherill to order a review of travel entitlements for state MPs when accompanied by a spouse or family member.
Ms Vlahos defended her trip’s costs (including the costs for her husband), saying it was supported by many ANZAC veterans and members of her Taylor electorate.
“On my return I went to veterans’ groups, the service clubs in the community and I’ve only had positive feedback that our Anzacs had been honoured,” said Ms Vlahos.
The MP told Neos Kosmos that her objective, other than to represent the premier at the anniversary was to remind people of the ANZAC sacrifice in Greece “that has never been really understood in the Australian psyche.”
“I’ve never hidden the fact that my husband accompanied me and it’s a legitimate part of my entitlements. I have a number of Greek people in my electorate and they’ve not been upset, and neither have the veterans. Not one person in South Australia has asked me to justify this.”
On her return from Greece, Ms Vlahos set up a Parliamentary Friends of Greece Group in the SA Parliament, acting on one of the recommendations included in her official report of her visit. The report is available to view on the SA Parliamentary website.